Friday, June 7, 2019


Clearly, I need to stop making promises about when I'm going to post next. I always break said promises and then feel really bad. :P So from now on, we're going to full-on wing it. FULL-ON.

Today I'm going to share the flash fiction I wrote for the Penprints Flash Fiction Dash, an annual writing challenge hosted by the amazing Rosalie Valentine. Basically, participants chose a literary genre from the list given on the sign-up form, Rosalie sent a prompt to each genre group, and by June 7 we had to (or still have to XD) use the prompt to write a story under 1,000 words and send the link back to her so she can include it in the wrap-up post - which will be coming in a few days.

I'm so excited to share my light dystopian story (actually light sci-fi but shhhh) called Level 1. Here is the prompt that inspired it:

by Lila Kims

He’s been afraid of sharks for as long as he can remember.

He doesn’t know what caused the phobia, or if it even had a specific cause. Maybe he caught a few minutes of Jaws on TV as a toddler, had an internal panic attack at an aquarium somewhere, or heard scary shark attack stories, and his brain decided to throw away the memory but keep the fear. All he knows is that one Christmas, when he was five or six, he got blue pajamas decorated with little sharks baring their teeth in wide, googly-eyed grins, and he stuffed them into the attic without trying them on. Hopefully Grandma wouldn’t ask about them later.

The beach is his least favorite vacation spot. He always takes showers because he can’t stand baths. Even the sharks in Finding Nemo make him uncomfortable.

Naturally, it’s not something he advertises.

You know what’s advertised all the time, though? That mysterious video game that just came out.

Grandma gives it to him for Christmas.

After flipping through the game manual without reading anything - including a psychology warning he doesn’t care about - he turns on the console, attaches it to the television set, and slides on the big, padded goggles that apparently use virtual reality to enhance gamer experience. “There’s some insane AI built into it,” his gamer friends have told him. “It taps into your mind and uses your biggest secrets against you.”

Very dramatic.

He enters his name to begin - DONOVAN - and slogs through more account set-up than he expected. “Stupid,” Donovan mutters, speaking to the empty living room. He’s home alone. “I just wanna play the game already.”

As if hearing him, the screen sets him up quickly for Level 1. “It has levels?” Donovan didn’t read up on it much; he mainly wants to play because of its popularity. Levels are fine, though.

A small dining room and kitchen fill his vision. He can just barely see the knife his avatar is holding in one hand. With virtual reality to make it seem more real than it is, being the perspective of the avatar is disconcerting.

He scans the opening instructions: He’s on a boat about to sink. No raft, no life vest, no friends, and no backstory. All he has are the materials around him. Somehow, he has to “survive.”

How vague can you get?

Donovan hates boats.

Using the console, he guides his avatar around the tiny living space, then brings him above deck, ignoring the way the swaying boat makes his stomach clench. The sound effects - groaning, sloshing, and the silent roar of aloneness in the middle of nowhere - are impressive.

Donovan’s hands are sweaty on the console as he takes in the endless stretch of water surrounding the boat. Half the deck is under already. He doesn’t even see any stray rope he can grab.

He doesn’t want to think about what could be in the water, but he can’t help it. Gaping mouth, rows of sharp teeth, soulless eyes, torpedo-like body slicing through the dark…

A couple panicked minutes later, and he’s forced to jump in.

The CGI is stunning. He shifts on the couch, resisting the urge to reach up and wipe salty ocean off his face, and takes a shuddery breath. It’s not real.

Water. Bubbles. Dark. An icon appears in the top right corner, counting down to when he needs air. He pushes the small control fob up with his thumb, breaking the surface. The blinking red icon turns green. He prays there’s land nearby.

“Come on,” Donovan breathes. “Come on.” His heart palpitates as he splashes around, and he wonders if he should stop playing. But this is Level 1! His gamer pals would have a field day if he gave up on Level 1.

His eyes latch onto something in the distance, but it’s not land. It’s a triangular gray thing sticking out of the water. And it’s moving.

His heart and stomach do a synchronized somersault. “All right,” he says. “Shark fin. No problem.” But his voice is weak and quavery.

Donovan turns 360 degrees and heads in the opposite direction, his avatar’s arms cutting through the water and spraying the screen.

Another fin appears ahead. He halts and turns left, hating the itch of gathered sweat in his armpits. Yet another fin. He jerks right. Another.

They’re closing in.

His thumb gives a nervous jolt, sending him underwater again. Sunlight squeezes down, enough to illuminate a dark, torpedo-like figure barreling toward him.

For a split second, Donovan forgets he’s at home. He forgets he’s not flailing in the middle of the ocean. He forgets it’s just a game. The gaping mouth and flash of teeth swallow his heart, mind, and stomach in one gulp.

The moment ends just as the mouth takes over the screen. He jumps up, screaming, and tears the VR goggles off his face, throwing them to the ground. He doesn’t look at the TV as he stumbles out of the room.

After slapping together a sandwich so mindlessly he doesn’t know what he put in it, Donovan sits at the table and researches the game on his phone. He’s too nauseous to eat, so he doesn’t know why he got food in the first place.

Everyone has recorded Level 1 as starting in a boat with a knife. Besides that, almost every description is different. The door to above deck is locked. The boat is heading straight for a waterfall. There’s a murderer on the boat. Etc., etc.

Donovan heads upstairs to take a shower and determines that as soon as he’s done, he’s going to read that psychology warning and the entire manual. He needs to know about this AI.

His sweaty hand sticks to the banister as he trudges upstairs.

And that was just Level 1?


Well, that's that! I hope you enjoyed! It could use a lot more revising, I know, but I had a LOT of fun writing it and that's the most important thing about this challenge. "Unfettered fun," as Rosalie described it. ;D


Related image

As soon as the wrap-up post on Rosalie's blog goes live, I'll active THIS LINK so you can hop over and read allllll the short stories. I'm incredibly excited to see the other prompts and what the other writers have spun from them!

You can bet I'll be participating next year. XD

The Lord's Truly,
What do you think of Level 1? I confess I don't know a WHOLE lot about virtual reality and gaming, but... I tried my best. I did do some research on selachophobia, though. XD Did you participate in Rosalie's challenge this year? Do you plan to next year?? It's super fun! Talk to me in the comments about ALL THE THINGS.


  1. LILAAAAAAAAA this was absolutely brilliant. I was mesmerized. I could not stop reading. I am shook.

    Yeah, I'll be scared of sharks forever now. Thanks a lot. xD



      Sorrrrrry. But... you're welcome. XD

      EEEEEK, THANK YOU! I'M SO GLAD YOU LIKE IT! *flailing as well* :D :D

  2. WOWOWOWOW I love this!! So intense ... and I do not like the idea of VR using my worst fears. Sounds more like a nightmare than a game. 😬

    1. YAYYYYY, thank you so much, fren!!!

      Yep, me neither. Does not sound fun. (But very fun to write about. XD)

  3. I am terrified of the possibility of this game now because after my fear of snakes, my second worst fear is sharks. Your writing BROUGHT IT TO LIFE. I am so stunned now. Excuse me while I go hide under the covers...

    1. Yeah, snakes and sharks are fascinating animals, but I certainly don't want to meet them in the wild or anything. (I've come across enough snakes already...) YIKES. :P

      THANK YOUUUUUU. But sorry if I gave you any nightmares. *sends hugs*

      THANK YOUUUUUU. But sorry to prompt you to hide under the covers.

    2. *facepalm* Ignore one of those thank you lines. XD

  4. Um, this is actual GENIUS, Lila! Teach me your flash-fiction-writing ways. :) (But I’m so glad I’m not playing this game. I think I might possibly die. XD)

    1. WOW, thanks so much, Nicole!! I'm SO happy you like it! :)))

      Same. XD

  5. Dude! That was intense! One of my fears is sharks, too, so I was definitely freaking out a bit.

    I really loved how you took this story. Totally awesome!!

    1. I was freaking out a bit too, while writing it. XD

      Thank you, Sarah!! Your flash fiction for this challenge is absolutely wonderful, by the way. <33

  6. Oh this was so good! I hate sharks.

    1. Thanks, Skye!! Sharks can be extremely scary. O_o

  7. This was SO great, Lila, wow - you did an amazing job!! IT WAS SO VIVID. I loved it!!

    1. EEEEEEEE thank you so much, Savannah!! I'm SO excited you enjoyed it! <3

  8. This story was amazing. Personally I love both VRs and sharks so obviously I was bound to like it XD

    1. Thanks so much, Nicki!! I'm so glad you enjoyed it! VR and sharks are both fascinating to me too. XD


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