The Harvest

Once a year, from the moment the sun sets on Halloween until sunrise, The Harvest begins. A deadly game of cat and mouse, where The Bringers rule and The Hunted live in fear. The only way to survive The Harvest is to not get caught.
It’s the most addictive game on the internet.
Roped into playing by a new online friend, known only as Bret, Nat O’Connell intends to play for an hour and then get caught. But once inside the game, the addiction slowly draws Nat in and the longer he plays, the more danger he finds himself in. Both online and in the real world. And he soon finds that the game won’t let him leave without a price.
But maybe if he can understand the reason he keeps finding the words ‘Save Our Souls’, he ,might just make it out alive.


1. 1

People are strange.

I think that’s the beginning of a song. Yeah, I heard it in the beginning of a film my dad likes, something to do with vampires or demons. Some kind of monster. I’m not much of a fan of scary movies or books, I prefer fantasy – you know, magic or dystopian, good versus evil. Stuff like that. I don’t need to live in fear of my own shadow just to metaphorically – and sometimes literally – be on the edge of my seat. I don’t need to be scared shitless just for thrills. My sister, she doesn’t agree; she loves the horror genre. The less likely she is to sleep at night the better she thinks it is. Just like my dad. I don’t get them at all. Example number one as to why people are strange: my family.

Give me Harry Potter over Dracula any day.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m more like my mum, if she preferred the same things as me, but she died when I was about two and my dad doesn’t really like to talk about her. So I probably won’t ever know. I suppose I could ask my sister, she was six when Mum died and is more likely to remember, but she’s such a Daddy’s Girl I doubt I’ll get anywhere.

But I digress. My point is about school, more specifically the people in it. Rowdy kids and awkward kids and kids just looking to get laid; if I had a quid for each time I heard a bit of gossip about someone cheating or stealing or doing something just to get attention I’d be one of the rich kids. In actuality, I’m the loner kid. Known for wanting to be unknown, as ironic as that sounds. I sit with my books and I block out the rest of the world, content to live in the worlds I can choose rather than the one God decided to put me in. These people I’m forced to see every day – though, thankfully, I don’t have to talk to any of them unless absolutely necessary – are the strangest people I have ever had the displeasure of meeting. They’re so crazily obsessed with the stupidest things – of course, they say the same about me and what I love. The only difference is, I’m polite – and clever – enough not to tell them what I think, only to listen, eye roll and mentally ridicule.

And for the most part, that’s how life goes. Around this time of the year, though, things get worse. Like, a whole lot worse. What is this time of year, you ask? Hallow-freaking-ween.The one night a year people like my sister can get away with scaring the crap out of others, unlike the other three hundred and sixty four days when she can only scare the crap out of me. I can understand the little kids wanting to dress up and trick or treat – even I used to do that – and I can get past the older kids using it as an excuse to party – even if I’m never invited. But what I don’t get is the whispered conversations and nervous anticipation about each year’s Harvest.

For those of you who don’t know, The Harvest is an online game that is only available on Halloween night, from sunset to sunrise the next day. It’s known and played worldwide, you only need a computer, a username and password to set up and get going. People talk about it every year; it’s the most addictive game we know. And I mean addictiveI’ve heard of kids slipping into comas and even dying because of this game. People can’t really explain the exact cause of death, but officially they say extreme dehydration. Spending all their time on their games and not taking care of themselves. I didn’t know it could happen in one night, though there some diehard gamers out there.

A gamer, Kat – Katherine, the aforementioned sister – is not, but even she likes to play The Harvest. This will be her third year; she’s taken the early shift instead of the late shift at her job to do it (you have to log in exactly when the sun is setting or wait for next year, but as long as you set up before sunset you can wait until Halloween to do it). Knowing Kat, she set up her account – you get a different one every year – last week when the announcement came.

She’s the only reason I know so much. In case you’re wondering why a horror-hating freak like me knows of this game.

The closer we get to Halloween, the more people I hear talking about it. Some are excited, some hate it as much as I do, and some are torn between walking away and checking it out. The rest of them either mustn’t care or just don’t want people to know what they think. It doesn’t matter, I know for sure that more of the school will be playing than not. It’s the same every year. I think it’s the one time of the year I’m not online.

Yeah, you heard right. Just because I like to read doesn’t mean I don’t like to spend time on the internet. I, well, I read, I watch stuff, I even play games. Mostly I blog; music I like, books I’ve read, random fan artwork I think is cool. It doesn’t have a large following. But it is how I met a couple of the people I talk to on Skype now. We never talk-talk, like with a webcam, it’s always in the form of messaging, but they’re quite cool. There’s this one guy, Bret – at least I think he’s a guy – and we talk every day. He found me a couple of months ago; we like the same things, go to the same places, we even agree with a lot the other says. I think he’s the closest thing I have to a friend. Man, that sounds more than a little depressing, to say that someone you’ve never met is closer to you than people you’ve known youentire life. But it’s the God’s honest truth. No one I know understands me like Bret does. No one I know likes me in general.

The only difference between us is his interest in horror games; I mean, he’s not a fanatic or anything, but he does like to play. He’ll be playing The Harvest and he’s trying to get me to join him.

I get home from school, drop my bag onto the bed, and the first thing I do is turn on my laptop and log into Skype. Bret is already on; if I recall correctly, he’s homeschooled, so he rarely, if ever, logs out and it doesn’t take him long to get back to me when I leave him a message. This time, though, there’s one waiting for me.

Bret: Halloween in two days, man. You decided?

The second thing I do, upon seeing the message, is smile. Everyone is all for speed texting and abbreviating words to make the number of characters you have last. I hate it. I mean, sure, you wanna get everything out in one message, but I would like to actually understand what you’re saying to me. It’s hard to read when all I see are numbers where letters should be, abbreviations instead of words and an abysmal lack of punctuation. Bret is the same.

And the third thing I do is answer him.

Nat: I don’t know. It’s not my thing.

We’re going in circles, albeit with slight detours each day, but we always end up at the same place; me saying no, him adamant he’ll change my mind. And I must admit, however begrudgingly and never out loud, that he’s doing a good job of changing my mind, or at least making me think about it. Because he doesn’t go on and on about the game itself – Kat’s all about the gore and the fear and how intense it can get, whereas Bret talks about us working together and having a laugh while we complete the game. That I can do.

He’s quick to answer.

Bret: It’ll be no fun without you.

When I don’t answer after two minutes, he adds another message.

Bret: Come on, Nathan. It’ll be great, just the two of us, beating the bad guys. We’re Harry and Ron. They’re Voldemort and his Death Eaters.

That’s just sneaky, using my favorite series against me. But that’s what makes it so appealing.The idea of being the good guy and fighting evil is an idea I can rarely ever pass up. And he knows it. If I imagine my friend on his side of the screen, waiting for me to reply, I bet he’s smiling. His eyes and hair and skin colour are all generic, a bit of a blur (we haven’t given out personal information), but he’s definitely grinning at his computer. The third message is a link to the game’s website and it’s with a hesitant hand that I click on it, still not fully committed to playing.

The site page is dark, all mist and shadow, with the occasional drop of blood falling from the title. The Harvest is written in huge block, grey letters. In the middle are the login and the signup link. I count to ten, not quite sure what I’m getting myself in for, and click on signup. It’s a basic page, asking for my name, my email address and to type in a username and password. The username I go for is NatCon – it’s a combination of my name, Nathan O’Connell, but it also makes me think of stuff like Comic Con, places I dream of going one day, so I think it’s pretty cool. Since they change every year and I don’t plan on coming back next year anyway, I go for a simple password – my birthday month and year. It’s the easiest to remember.

Back on Skype, I type in one, little sentence.

Nat: As long as I get to be Harry.

He knows I’m in; he messages back a smiley face seconds later. I really have no idea what I’ve gotten myself in for, and I keep telling myself that even though I’ve signed up it doesn’t mean that I need to participate. I could always just not log in at sunset. But there is one thing I do know.

No way in hell am I ever telling Kat. I'd never live it down.

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