Zombies stalk the streets, greedy tour guides prey on noobs and old men are filled with long-odds hope in this disturbingly brilliant short story by first-time author Stan Faryna.

The zombies, the guide and the old man are all PCs (Player Characters) in an ultraviolent video game set in a bleak near future, where even drinking water is beyond the means of many. It’s also a future where Francesco Bernadone, 80, must find a fortune to pay for an experimental cancer treatment for his dying wife.

With this in mind, Francesco pawns his father’s Rolex to pay Carl — a disreputable game guide he finds on Facebook — to lead him to the rare riches rumored to be embedded in the dangerous dungeons of the virtual world that is Jacob’s Trouble.

Here, Times Square-sized images of actors long dead hawk consumer products and dispense cryptic wisdom while flesh-eating zombies lurk behind innocuous-looking storefronts. Young people ponder questions such as, “Did you ever wonder if the universe, or God, or whatever was trying to speak to you through a TV series?” And snipers camped out on unseen rooftops can snuff out your character in a nanosecond.

But Francesco, whose heart is an anomaly of love within the cynical confines of the game, begins to question his own wisdom in choosing Carl to take him into a simulacrum where actual death can easily result from a virtual — and violent — misstep.

Does Francesco find the storied riches and enroll his wife in the experimental treatment program that will bring her back? And what of Carl, the disingenuous and disagreeable gamer, running his con from his real-world lair inside a broken-down mobile home?

Readers will be richly rewarded by a well-written story filled with vivid images of a dark dystopian future and three-dimensional characters you’ll either truly love or hate. Indeed, this glimpse into a possible world that awaits us less than ten years hence will leave you breathless with apprehension and sleepless for several nights.

Five stars to Francesco Augustine Bernadone. We look forward to the next installment of this story by a talented newcomer.

Amazon Link

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