's 2013 Horror Write-off:

"Chunk Error"

Submitted by Alexis Feynman

The first incident was discovered in the midst of the Pacific Ocean. A cargo ship was en route from Japan to the United States when the report came through, describing a phenomenon unheard of in meteorological history.

A piece of the ocean was missing.

There was no interruption in the water's surface; no sign that the ocean had noticed the absence of a part of its body. Water simply flowed up to the edge of the gap, vanished, and re-appeared sometime later at the opposite edge of the void as if it had never been interrupted.

A handful of men decided to try out the flow of continuity for themselves. They descended in a life raft, pushed themselves across the empty threshold, and immediately vanished. The last sound to come from the portable radio was a truncated, wet, voiceless squeal.

The boat emerged some three days later. The passengers had not returned with it.

Accordingly, the gap in the ocean was cordoned off and ships re-routed a safe distance away. Only authorized vessels, armed with the latest in sensor equipment and a variety of highly-trained scientists, were permitted near the area so that the phenomenon could be studied. It was quickly determined that only inorganic matter could pass safely through the rift. Fish, floating algae, even microbes - none could withstand the journey. Someone thought back then that it would be an amusing way to sterilize water.

Probes, cameras, and monitoring devices of all kind were launched, of course. This quickly proved ineffective as the feed cut off as soon as the threshold was crossed, and no recordings were taken until the device had emerged on the other side. For all intents and purposes, it was a gap in space itself.

As time went on, and no new data emerged from the area, people began to lose interest in the phenomenon. And it remained that way until the next one appeared in Minnesota, taking the population of a small town with it.

The tragedy of the event aside, data had to be collected. The second anomaly was discovered to have exactly the same dimensions and properties as the first. This time, media interest took far longer to fade. People were aware that the phenomenon could pose a real threat, and the pressure was on to find a solution.

The third anomaly was discovered deep inside a mountain. Like the first, it gave no clues as to how long it had been there - in fact, it could have existed for longer than its predecessors, and no one would ever know. The location made it impossible to take exact measurements, but with careful effort it was possible to determine the approximate height of the disturbance. Its shape was established as a sort of squashed cube that was taller, and longer, than it was wide.

We still had no idea how to predict the phenomenon's appearance.

The next one appeared in northern Nigeria. Then two more in the ocean. The time between the last two seemed closer than the ones before - several months instead of a few years. No matter how many studies were done, how many tests were performed, no one was any closer to understanding what caused the gaps to appear or how we could stop them - and they were picking up speed.

Speculation ran rampant in both the media and the personal sphere. Some believed it was a sign that the Elder Gods were returning. Others thought that the Earth was being pulled into a parallel dimension. Regardless, one opinion was becoming more and more commonplace: the world as we knew it was coming to an end.

The more of these anomalies appeared, the harder they became to ignore. Suddenly, it became difficult to meet someone who hadn't been affected in some way - lost a job or a home or a loved one. I had an online friend in lower New York, who often played on my Minecraft server. We were in game together until the moment she was erased from existence.

Now fear became the new norm. For ourselves, for our loved ones - for the whole world. The problem showed no signs of stopping, or even of ceasing to pick up speed, and there was no telling when or where it would happen next. God only knew how many of these things had appeared beneath the surface of the Earth where we had no way to track them. People tried to find patterns, predict the next location affected, relocate to a place that they thought was safe. But there was no pattern. Half of Spain was lost in the same month, while Paraguay remained untouched. A few months after someone figured that out, a new void in Paraguay killed several thousand refugees.

Some people tried to keep going. Cell phone companies, rescue organizations, and those who weren't too busy panicking to keep coming to work every day. Me, I couldn't keep doing it. Couldn't come in to work knowing that I could be wiped off the face of the Earth and the last thing I had ever done was get screamed at by some entitled yuppie who didn't like the sound of their phone bill. Of course, like all the other people who left their jobs, I was called a quitter, a defeatist, and worse. I didn't care. I didn't have the heart to cling on to an obviously dying world.

Suicide rates skyrocketed. So did teenage pregnancies, crime, and - ironically enough - church attendance. The world leaders had summits to decide what to do. Some enterprising philanthropists tried to get their mission to Mars underway in the hopes that things might be better there. The rest of us just waited. Out of curiosity, or unwillingness to end it for ourselves.

Six years into the disaster, one of the voids appeared next to one that had already been there. Well, it appeared to simply double in size, but scientifically we knew what had happened. This was the turning point for many of us, when we decided that the Earth was officially slated for extinction. Several of my former co-workers stole a van - they tried to rent one, but services were closed down - and drove it into the nearest gap, embracing their fate with grim smiles and beer in hand. I politely declined the invitation to join them. I think I was holding on to the faint hope that it might stop before the end.

After they'd gone, I went home and powered on the generator that I'd stolen from an abandoned hardware store. I thought I'd set up my laptop, turn on Minecraft, and fart around on my old server for a while. No one else could play on it - the Internet had gone down with the rest of ordered society - but I thought it might be fun to futz around with the castle that my friends and I had built.

I'd been logged in for maybe a few minutes when the server threw me a chunk error. There, in the middle of my virtual world, was a giant, empty, rectangular hole where no living thing could survive. I barely made it to the toilet before my stomach emptied itself.

Canned green beans and Spam are even worse coming up than they are going down, even if you ate them cold.

Funny how everything seemed so much more personal toward the end. I'd spent so much of my life just drifting by, paying more attention to what others around me were doing than what might have been happening to my life. But as the world continued to vanish and society broke down into a handful of scattered, desperate looters, I suddenly realized how important I was to myself. All those little life events, memories of the people I loved, new experiences in the changing landscape of reality.

Just in time to face the extinction of my species, of course.

We had communications for longer than someone might think. The main reason was that, as we had learned, nonliving matter could pass through the void unimpeded. It didn't seem to matter how long it took to reach the other side. The only downside was, there were fewer and fewer people who took the effort to broadcast. The last TV show in the States was some technical genius who had stolen enough equipment to film himself surviving in the wasteland that his hometown had become.

I liked him. He felt like my best friend up until the moment that his feed cut to static.

Eventually, the degradation reached the point where I was stranded in my neighborhood. By my estimate, I was part of one surviving chunk in a sea of void space. There were only a few survivors left - an old Christian woman who felt certain that the Lord was near, and a couple of looters whose impressive rifles I stayed well away from. They didn't seem interested in bothering us living folk, probably because there were still so many empty houses to go through. I had to laugh when I saw them carrying what looked like several pounds of jewelry back to their house.

With the world falling to pieces, things finally began to slow down. Gone was the hustle and bustle of everyday life, the panic of a dying world, even the sporadic sprees of violence from the last remaining opportunists. There was almost nothing left but time to wait until we had completely finished ourselves.

I spent a lot of that time in my backyard, enjoying the still summer breeze, listening to the chirping of the neighborhood birds, and thinking about everything. About the fact that the world was ending, and that although I had beaten the odds this far, it was only a matter of time before the void claimed me, too. The Earth was dying, being erased from existence. Somewhere out there were a few stragglers like me, floating on the last few pieces of the world, waiting for the end.

And I realized I was okay with that.

Once upon a time, I had been afraid. We all were, when civilization was slowly dying, torn apart by an invisible and unstoppable disease. But it wasn't the oblivion that we really feared. It was the loss of what we knew. The familiarity of society - family, friends, obligations. The system that supported us. All we really worried about was living long enough to die of starvation when the last of the farms had disappeared.

Now it was all gone. Now, finally, there was nothing to worry about, because it had all been destroyed. There was only time - time to bide, time to survive, until the void came to claim me too. And I was ready for it. I wasn't ready to jump into it - I enjoyed the serenity of my barren neighborhood, the quiet that I found in the last few weeks of the Earth's lifespan. This was the way the world ended - not with a bang, or a whimper, but peacefully and quietly in its sleep. If I had to survive to see the end, I was happy that this was the end I would see.

And then it happened. One moment I was lying in bed, pleased that I had finally found the time to paint that mosaic on my ceiling, and the next there was a shush like the faintest of breezes, and I ceased to be.