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21 min read

The Bad Survey

Author since 2024 1Story 1 Follower
The Bad Survey

Hi! I’m Peter. I work as customer support for a video game that you’ve almost certainly heard about. Let’s call it WizardQuest for safety’s sake. There are different ways that customers can contact us, but I prefer responding to text chat, since if I’m honest I’m not very good on the phone.

That’s not to say that I’m great at text chat either, but let’s not tear me all the way down just yet.

There’s a bunch of things customers might choose to contact us about, whether it’s payment issues, they’re locked out of their account or problems in the game itself (our bosses really don’t like us helping with any of that last stuff, so it’s pretty much always going to be a polite redirect there).

The customer who started all of this off didn’t seem to be after any of those things. Her character name was Rastanafly, and her ticket just read “hello”. In my experience, those tickets are usually either completely pointless, or hiding a complex tech issue that requires about five hours to solve.

For anonymity purposes, I’ll just put my name as CS Pete.

CS Pete: Hello, this is CS Pete, contacting you in regard to the ticket you sent. What did you need assistance with?

Rastanafly: Hey, you. I need a word.

Well, this already put my nose out of joint, because I don’t like having to repeat questions. I hate it when customers need you to coax answers out of them, so I left it a few seconds to see if she’d follow up with anything. When it became clear that she wasn’t about to type anything else, I gave up and asked again.

CS Pete: Good morning! What did you need a word about?

Rastanafly: What’s it about?

Well, this didn’t seem to be going well at all. Perhaps English wasn’t her first language? I tried to figure out what I’d said that was unclear, but I was already behind on ticket count (we have a target number to close a day), and I am not good at thinking when stressed. After a few seconds of further silence, I gave it another try.

CS Pete: It is about the ticket you sent. It just had the description “hello”. I wanted to ask if you need help with something.

Rastanafly: I think I left a book here yesterday. It might’ve got mixed up with the others but mine wouldn’t have had a sticker in it.

I frowned. Was this a prank? Did she think this was the library she’d contacted? But that made no sense – I could see from the ticket info that she’d sent it from in-game while playing on a character, not by email or on the online form (which, congratulations to anyone who finds a way to send a ticket to us through that route).

Well, either way, she’d sent a message and I could hardly ignore it, no matter how bizarre it was. I tried to think it over. There were certainly books in-game, but they were just items you used to teach your characters spells, or readable items that explained lore or had silly little stories in them. You could trade them to other players, or sell them to in-game vendors, but it wasn’t a game where you could just drop the item on the floor for anyone to pick up. As for stickers, well, that was anyone’s guess.

Perhaps she was just using a translation that was missing the meaning. I decided to ignore the parts I didn’t understand, and gave it another shot.

CS Pete: Is this an in-game item that you have lost? I can search for it if you have the name.

Rastanafly: I don’t think so. All the ones I checked had one.

CS Pete: What is the book called?

Rastanafly: Please, it’s “Losing My Sins”. I’ve checked everywhere else.

CS Pete: Okay, one second, I’ll check the logs.

I didn’t recognise the name offhand, but that didn’t mean much. While I used to play the game constantly, most of my friends had split off to their own lives, or different games, and it wasn’t so interesting for me any more. I was out of touch with a lot of the new stuff these days.

First things first, I was going to look at her characters’ inventories to see if she hadn’t just stored it on the wrong one, or maybe just deleted or sold it to a vendor.

Before I could do anything, though, her next message came through.

Rastanafly: Tell you what, why don’t we check in the back? Follow me.

And then I saw that she had gone offline. It bothered me that she hadn’t waited even a second for me to do the checks I’d promised, and I was a little irked that she’d raced away so fast. Perhaps she’d disconnected? I figured that I should maybe give her the benefit of the doubt, instead of jumping to the worst conclusion.

But then I actually thought about her message, and found myself distracted again as I wondered what she was talking about. Maybe she was just agreeing with my plan to look through the logs. Well, either way, I left her to whatever she was doing, and looked through her character inventories.


I was about to bring up the logs when I realised I should probably check on the item itself. Bringing up the fan database, which was far better than anything the company provided, I got no results for “Losing My Sins”. I tried a couple of other searches, and “Sins” brought up a bundle of items and quite a few spells too. But no “Losing My Sins”.

Since Rastanafly didn’t seem to be in a rush to come back, and I was in a rush to get numbers, I closed her ticket after writing a quick, bland response. I just advised her that I couldn’t find the book she was asking about, and she’d need to provide some more info on what exactly had happened.


That lunch, in the office canteen, my friend Toby spent most of the time telling me something about a debate that sounded more like an argument he’d had with a colleague over the best way to handle an irate customer. I wasn’t really listening, but I made what I hoped were the correct noises in response while I focused on the dried-out husk that the blackboard had called a chicken schnitzel.

‘Hey, is something up?’ Toby asked towards the end of lunch. ‘You seem off today.’

I hadn’t really noticed it myself, and yet when he brought it up, I suddenly realised he was right. Listlessly, I poked at the crusty remains of the schnitzel.

‘Nothing’s wrong, but… I feel weird. Like I had a bad dream, and I can’t remember what it was, but everything’s reminding me about it.’

This seemed to make Toby quite cheerful. ‘Oh, I’ve had one of those! So this one time…’

And off he went again. Whatever happened in his dream, I missed it, but I couldn’t stop wondering why I felt so unsettled.


The next day was Saturday. I figured I’d pop over to the library to pick up a random comic or two, since I was supposed to be saving up for a holiday, and I wasn’t sure I was ready to commit to a long-term series.

It wasn’t very busy. Spread over two floors, it had an orderly, almost clinical vibe. There were no cheerful decorations up, no stands with pictures of cartoon characters, and outside of the books themselves, everything was either white or pale green.

The librarian station was a circular desk in the middle of the lower floor, and most people could be found somewhere in the vicinity. I headed up to the top floor, which had the comics section and a small shelf with the few fantasy books this librarian permitted. He was a tall man with a short black beard, his broad build more the sort I’d have expected to encounter at the gym. While I didn’t get the impression he liked the sorts of books I was into, he was friendly enough whenever I needed help.

The only windows in the library were way overhead, touching the distant ceiling. They were too high to look out across the town, but you did at least have a good view of the dismal grey clouds that almost always decorated the sky. Today was no different. The wind was whistling around the small library, and occasionally the windows jerked and shook.

That was the only ambience that accompanied me as I idly drifted through the comics section. I felt like trying the first two volumes of a new series, even if I didn’t want to get stuck in. The problem was that I kept finding volumes one and three, with the second ones missing or checked out.

While I was muttering some choice words on the fourth occasion this happened, the whistling winds faded away to be replaced by a conversation at the desk downstairs.

‘Hey, you,’ I heard a woman say. ‘I need a word.’

‘What’s it about?’ said the librarian.

‘I think I left a book here yesterday.’ She tapped the desk. ‘It might’ve got mixed up with the others but mine wouldn’t have had a sticker in it.’

A shiver of recognition went through me. I hadn’t picked up on it at first – I’d read these words before, not heard them out loud. But this was more than just familiar.

‘I don’t think so,’ said the librarian, his voice suddenly tense. ‘All the ones I checked had one.’

I left the manga shelf and tried to subtly look down at the conversation taking place at the desk. It’s extremely unlikely that I would’ve gone unnoticed, had anyone else actually been down there, but aside from the woman speaker and the librarian, nobody was about. And these two were completely focused on each other.

While I recognised the woman’s words, I didn’t know her. She had dusty blonde hair, looked to be in her late thirties, and wore a green turtleneck jumper that seemed a size too big. In contrast to her, the librarian’s smart shirt was just a little too small, which had the effect of making him appear twice as tense.

Seeing him standing like that, I had the sense that I probably didn’t appear far different, frozen as I was up here. The dread I felt was overpowering. Was it really that big of a deal?

You read this conversation before it happened, I reminded myself. Of course it’s a big deal! That’s impossible!

Forgetting any attempt at subtlety, I stared fixedly at the lady as I awaited her next words. Part of me dreaded hearing the name, as though it would close a door behind me forever.

‘Please,’ she said, ‘it’s “Losing My Sins”. I’ve checked everywhere else.’

Well, shit. It was like I was standing in the middle of a spotlight, the sound of trumpets blaring all around. I felt as if all eyes in the world were suddenly on me. Even though neither of the two below turned to look, I stumbled away from the rail and collided with the bookcase behind me.

Apparently my little stumble went unnoticed, as the librarian responded to her a moment later.

‘Tell you what, why don’t we check in the back? Follow me.’

I heard the sound of their footsteps, and a door opened and shut shortly after. Whatever had just happened, I felt like it had to be significant. Moving seemed like a disruption, and once again I had that sensation that there were eyes fixed on me.

They can’t see me if I don’t move, right? I thought. It made as much sense as hiding under the covers. As though the monster under the bed would be turned away by such a feeble defence.

Slowly, almost shaking, I approached the rail and looked down at the desk again. It was almost disappointing to see that nothing had changed. Feeling like I should hang about to see if anything else happened, I grabbed a random volume one and hurried downstairs. Nobody else was around – when had they all left anyway? – so I had my pick of chairs.

Though I settled down in a chair, I was unsettled. My eyes couldn’t focus on the meanings of the words in the comic. I turned page after page, simulating the act of reading, but if you’d asked me to repeat anything of what I’d just read, I wouldn’t even have been able to summarise it.

What is wrong with me? Nothing happened. Why do you even care?

But I was certain that conversation was exactly what Rastanafly had sent to me in that text chat yesterday. That wasn’t possible, though. I had to be misremembering. Maybe I’d dozed off upstairs without realising, and in my post-sleep state I’d started imagining things.

Suddenly I had the sense that I shouldn’t be here. Perhaps it was that the wind picked up, and the rattling of the high windows grew violent. Maybe it was just the general vibe of nobody being around. My familiar library felt like a stranger.

There was no sign of the librarian, and I didn’t know how long he’d be, so I dropped the comic on the desk and left. All I wanted was to get home and out of sight, even if nobody was around to see me.


That night I dreamed that I was playing WizardQuest in bed. My flat is small, and the bed folds down over the couch. The television is on the wall facing the couch by day, and bed by night. I had the lights off in the dream, though there was a faint orange glow around the TV.

When I woke up later, I realised the setup made no sense. WizardQuest is a PC game, and I did not have my computer hooked up to the TV, and I definitely hadn’t gone to the trouble of setting the game up with my controller. In the dream, I didn’t question it.

I was running around in WizardQuest with no particular direction to what I was doing. When I think about it now, I remember flashes of images – running around the village in the forest, following a stone road in an unfamiliar grey valley, or just going in circles inside a barely-lit castle.

Then the wall shuddered with a monumental banging. In the dream, I understood it to be the neighbours, angry at the noise the game was making. As I write this now, I recall that the level of force was unnaturally heavy, violent… almost threatening.

Dream Peter was terrified. ‘I’m sorry,’ I said in a voice that was practically crying. I think at that point I either switched off the game, or the dream switched focus, because I don’t remember anything else that happened afterwards.


For the rest of the weekend, I tried to forget about silly things that I’d probably misunderstood. As though such a mundane conversation would be magically foretold to some layabout like me. Did I honestly think I was a psychic? And why would a mysterious force communicate to me through a player ticket?

On the following Monday, I went into work ready to check Rastanafly’s ticket and see that the chat was nothing like what I remembered. Of course the words wouldn’t match what I heard at the library. There was zero chance that she’d referenced that book “Losing My Sins”.

And yet there it all was. I pulled up the ticket in the database and reviewed the chat logs, and it was all exactly as I’d remembered and overheard.

I felt sick. It seemed so unimportant, but at the same time it was breaking a fundamental rule of the universe. This was nothing I could tell anybody else either. They’d laugh if I told them that a customer had spewed out a record of an incidental library conversation a day in advance. I knew I’d have reacted that way if anyone had ever come to me with that story.

Over and over, I thought: Why me? Why that conversation?

When I checked Rastanafly’s ticket history, there was just one other contact where she’d asked for an item to be restored. The chat had been ordinary and dull – a simple question/answer with no cryptic messages or references. Her listed address was somewhere far to the north, so unless she’d been on a random weekend trip to my dismal little town, she probably wasn’t the person I’d seen at the library. Right?

Another thought occurred to me, and I checked my surveys to see if she’d filled one in for me. Apparently she had – and I almost felt better when I saw that she’d given me no stars, my indignation briefly pushing away the nameless dread building inside me. She’d left a comment too: “didnt even try to help”. I thought that was unfair. It wasn’t my fault she’d ignored my questions and gone offline.


After work, the library was on my mind again. Though I was doing my best to ignore any thoughts of weird predicted conversations, it was nevertheless there in the back of my mind.

I should find that comic again and read it properly this time, I thought to myself as I took the backstreet shortcut to the library.

Besides, it was actually sunny for once. The world felt brighter, more optimistic. It was almost enough to dispel that alien sensation I’d felt when I’d last been in the library, surrounded by the clattering of window frames overhead.

When I reached the library, though, it was shut. There was no explanation given for why, and nobody around to ask.

As the bad feeling threatened to return in full, I quickly dispelled it by telling myself I’d go to one of the bookshops in town and buy the first few volumes of that series instead. Some retail therapy would keep the demons at bay, I figured.


I didn’t read much of those comics, though. As soon as I got home, I found myself on the internet, looking up any information about the library closure. But there was nothing conclusive. The best I found was a post asking why it was shut, and the library account replying that “unforeseen circumstances” meant that it would be closed temporarily.

Had I missed something significant about that conversation? What if the librarian had murdered that woman when he’d led her into the back area? What if she’d murdered him? But there would’ve been some sort of news if that had happened, right?

Maybe they’d both disappeared back there. Perhaps they’d eloped and left nobody to run the library? It didn’t have to be the worst-case scenario, after all.

My mind flooded with possibilities, but again and again I kept coming back to the notion that they’d disappeared or been murdered. I doubted that it was anything to do with being psychic, regardless of being witness to a foretold conversation. It was just that I gravitated towards the pessimistic outcome in most cases.

I didn’t know the librarian’s name to look him up, and he wasn’t listed on the vague info available online. There was just a bland email to contact, or a phone number. I pondered giving it a call, but what was I going to say? I wasn’t a detective. I couldn’t just call up a library and ask if the librarian had disappeared or been murdered.

What if he was the one to answer, anyway? What would I say? Would I ask him about the woman in green who’d been looking for “Losing My Sins”?

Thinking about it now, I probably could’ve done something like that. Maybe if I hadn’t been quietly freaking out, losing my head over the possibility that I’d received some sort of cosmic warning and completely ignored it. It was easier to just find a distraction for the rest of the evening… but I decided not to go with WizardQuest.


The next day, I’d barely slept, and my ticket-answering suffered accordingly. If people needed the extra mile, I couldn’t even grant them another foot. The term “benefit of the doubt” was an alien concept that never landed on my planet. If people didn’t answer my questions first time, I politely wished them a good day and closed the ticket.

It was almost like I knew that something bad was coming again. Everything felt vivid and intense, like the unnatural light before a thunderstorm.

And then it happened again. The next ticket in my queue just read “hello” like before. This time, the customer was called Redforth. I rolled off my usual opening message, feeling certain of what was about to happen, even if I didn’t know the specifics.

CS Pete: Hello, this is CS Pete, contacting you in regard to the ticket you sent. What did you need assistance with?

Redforth: Hello. This shouldn’t take more than a minute.

Hoping that this wasn’t going to be like Rastanafly’s conversation, I tried to keep things light.

CS Pete: That’s good to hear! How can I help you?

Redforth: Okay, come on in.

My stomach dropped. His reply didn’t fully make sense in context like with Rastanafly, but I was just jumping to conclusions, right?

CS Pete: So what did you need?

Redforth: Thank you. Have you lived here long?

CS Pete: Haha, a few years! So did you need me to help with something?

Redforth: Wait…

And then, like Rastanafly, he went offline. There must’ve been something off about my expression, as Toby, sitting at the desk next to me, suddenly leaned over.

‘Hey, you okay? You don’t look so good.’

It took me a second to reconnect with the world. I jerked my head round to look at him.

‘Oh, it’s nothing. I just slept badly, I think. I’m fine. There’s nothing wrong.’

He gave me a sceptical frown. ‘You might wanna take a break for a few. It wasn’t a player giving you shit, was it?’

‘No, not at all. You don’t need to worry about me.’


So here I am now, trying to figure all of this out. I still haven’t found out anything about the library, or the woman in green, or even the book “Losing My Sins”. Maybe she got the name slightly wrong, but the only book I found with a similar name didn’t seem like something important enough that the universe would break the time-space continuum to contact some random CS rep.

But I am strongly wondering if these aren’t some sort of warning. Maybe I didn’t step in to stop something bad on Saturday. Possibly this new conversation is my chance to make a real difference.

I don’t know what you guys might think. I’ve put this together in a bit of a rush and I’m going to post it all now and maybe come back to it later if I run into anything new. My plan is to listen out for that conversation, and see if I can’t change things this time around.

For now, though, I’ve got a flat inspection, so I’m going to have to scoot. Catch you on the other side!

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Hello! I'm a fantasy writer dipping his toes into spooky stuff...

Er, I also like cats. I hope that's enough for a bio?

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