Heart racing, John bolted up- feeling pinpricks of pain as the several dozen electrodes he'd been hooked up pulled taught against his skin. He gasped for breath, feeling his lungs burn as he looked around at where he was. He'd died. Hadn't he?
He'd sacrificed himself to save Anna and the others, and he'd died.
But he wasn't dead.
Instead, he was hooked up to a bunch of machines in a pure-white room that looked eerily like something out of a high-tech, hospital-themed horror movie.
Bringing a shaking hand up to his chest, he felt his heartbeat hammer frantically against his fingers.
What the fuck was going on?
Beginning to take in his surroundings, John looked down at the clean, white medical table that he was sitting up on. He was wearing a paper gown instead of the bloodstained school clothes he'd been in moments earlier, and he immediately noticed that there were no traces of any bite marks on him at all. Bare legs stretched out in front of him, he counted at least twelve electrodes hooked up to various places on both of his legs; and looking down at his arms he counted at least twenty more attached to his fingers and arms- all the wires running to the several machines around the room.
First zombies, now this? He'd always wondered what it would be like to be abducted by aliens, but this? This was terrifying. He wasn't sure he could handle dying a second time- assuming that the next time it would be for real.
A computer monitor (one of several that he seemed to be hooked up to) let out a series of beeps, which caused him to jump as an automated voice rang out over a loudspeaker affixed to the far corner of the room.
"Hello, John. You have finished the simulation. Thank you for your participation. Until the other members of your party complete the exercise, you will be held on the premises until de-escalation counseling can be administered."
"What the fuck?"
He tried not to move any more than he had, not wanting to pull at any more of the electrodes than he had when he'd sat up. His thoughts raced as he thought back to his death, thinking back to running from the zombies, breaking into the bowling alley, getting chased by a zombified snowman, going to school the day before, riding in Mr. Shephard's car… how much of that had been a simulation? Had his entire life just been a simulation? What kind of Matrix-level shit was this?
Another machine began beeping, more urgently than the last one- and John suddenly realized that his breathing had quickened, throat tightening as he fought to make sense of everything that had just happened. Instinctively, his hands flew to his pockets for his inhaler- but the paper gown he was wearing didn't have any pockets, and he didn't know where he was, and he didn't know if anyone could hear him or if anyone cared if he was dying and suddenly John was sobbing; shaking violently and gasping for breath as he wondered if this was how he'd actually die. His lungs burned, his throat burned- his chest tightened up as he looked frantically around the room for something anything-
Suddenly, several adults in lab coats and blue scrubs burst through the door. John could hear them talking back and forth- mentioning strings of numbers than meant nothing to him and using medical terms that he couldn't begin to comprehend.
"John, I'm going to need you to breathe for me, okay?" One of the doctors; a tall, Black man wearing wire-rimmed glasses handed him an inhaler; and John took it readily.
Breathing in shakily as he pressed down on the inhaler, John counted to ten as he held his breath- watching as the doctors began removing the electrodes from his body as he exhaled.
"Breathe, John. You're going to be okay."
He nodded, focusing on breathing as the final electrodes were removed from his skin.
"You're in a medical testing facility at the military base in Little Haven. You were chosen to participate in an experimental virtual-reality procedure that is being developed for use in training soldiers to respond efficiently in a variety of scenarios- in your case, you were put through a scenario in which a violent, unstoppable virus spread throughout the world and destroyed all modern civilization as we know it. But it was only a simulation, John."
The doctor kept talking, but his words meant nothing. John sat there, breathing shakily as he tried to forget the sound of Anna calling out to him; her face, and the faces of the rest of the group all contorted into various states of grief as they'd watched him sacrifice himself for them.
"John? Can you hear me?"
"Right, yeah. Sorry."
"We're going to take you to another room and run some tests to make sure you're alright. Sound good?"
I'm not alright. I killed myself and all my friends watched me die. You can't be fucking alright after something like that. I'm not fucking alright.