Sunday, February 14, 2016

Vestigial Surreality: 10: Apocalypse

The Sunday SciFi Fantasy Serial, Free Online Fiction, Mystery, Ancestor Simulation, Digital World, Data is Data
episode TEN

The four sat in the booth at the IHOP closest to the park, Joshua and Michael seated side-by-side across from Jack and Stacey, a very odd grouping of somber humanity that constantly drew the glances of all the denizens of the very busy restaurant. Michael’s eyes were sad and huge behind his round glasses, but Joshua, vastly filling his side of the booth, just barely leaving enough room for Michael to hang at the very edge of the booth, was his usual jolly self, ordering as much food for himself as the rest of the group combined. The table was pushed back away from Joshua, right up near Stacey’s chest, which was a little uncomfortable, as Stacey himself was a large man, and his battered body would have been pressured under the best of circumstances. Jack felt about as sad as Michael looked, but there was no denying the excitement building inside of him, the excitement of a lifetime all concentrated down to a few hours in one day. And Stacey was his usual self, somewhat battered down, sad but sardonic, quiet but friendly, his small nap in the back of the truck reviving him as much as a twenty percent improvement, compared to the guy who fled the alley.
Vestigial Surreality, Illustration by Harrison Christian Larsen
Illustration by Harrison Christian Larsen ©2016 - Vestigial Surreality: TEN
“Please Stacey,” Michael said, leaning forward, his glasses reflecting waves of light. “You have to help me, with this, please.”
Stacey nodded and grinned at the little man. There was something so melancholically sweet about Michael, you just wanted to stand before him, shield him, from the world, and perhaps from the very end of the world.
“Joshua,” Stacey said, looking seriously at the giant, “we don’t want to cause a panic, everyone in this restaurant screaming, running from the building, infecting everyone on the street, and soon the whole city is looting and burning. We are responsible. We are going to contain this secret, mostly because we don’t understand it, right?”
“Oh,” Joshua burbled, his eyes swelling hugely, leaning comically forward, whispering so loudly that someone sitting three tables away could probably hear every word. “I get it, I’ll keep my voice down, I promise. Whisper. Shhhh.”
Michael felt the need to offer at least some explanation that might reassure the two characters sitting across from them. “Don’t worry, he’s not being sarcastic, although I’m surprised it’s working, I might say the same thing thirty-two times and it wouldn’t help, not a bit.”
“Oh this is serious,” Joshua whispered. “But you have to admit, it sure is a lot of fun, too!”
The last part of the giant’s speech was already getting a bit louder than a whisper and his three companions were leaning toward him, three separate index fingers pressing comically to three separate sets of lips.
“Yeah yeah yeah SORRY!” Joshua yelled, not truly raising his voice, but his normal voice seemed as loud as a bullhorn. The vast smile spread across his face protected the giant from any true anger or reproach.
“We don’t know what’s going on,” Stacey said, in his quieted voice, revolving his coffee mug between his fingers on the tabletop. “But we all feel it, right?”
“And we’ve all been receiving coincidences,” Jack said.
Joshua nodded enthusiastically, but Michael seemed frozen in one stiff posture, staring at Jack and Stacey.
“We’ve all seen things, I mean in the last couple of hours, impossible things,” Stacey continued.
“As if we are in a Twilight Zone episode,” Michael said.
“Ooh, I love the Twilight Zone,” Joshua said, nodding like a crazy man, “especially To Serve Man, where Richard Kiel is a giant alien with a big ole head like a butt. That freaked me out when I was a little boy, have you seen that one? Great twist, loved the shocker ending. Ooh, that was the best one.”
They stared at him.
Joshua snorted, lifting his hands palms up, then planted a massive finger at his bearded lips. “Shhhhh,” he whispered.
But Stacey went along with Joshua’s train of thought. “But it feels more like the one with the guy who loved to read, and he survived a nuclear holocaust in a bank vault.”
“Love that one, love that one,” Joshua whispered, then gulped down his third hot chocolate in one loud slurp. “Burgess Meredith, the Penguin. Poor guy. Nobody let him read, especially his wife.”
“The end of the world?” Jack said, quietly, gravely, and everyone nodded, knowingly. Michael visibly shuddered, and then gripped his own mug of coffee, as if for stability.
Stacey moved a compressed wad of wet napkins away from his left eye and experimentally peeked around at his companions. He was just able see them, mistily. Thank God, his eye would be okay, it was just the usual kind of wound he had often suffered in his prior life.
“Is it okay?” Jack queried, gently patting Stacey’s arm.
“Are you related?” Michael asked, because the two across from him looked similar, but Stacey seemed a tad too young to be the other man’s father, but Jack seemed a tad too young to be a kid brother.
“We just met today,” Jack said, “in the park, at my tree.”
“But it seemed like we were supposed to meet,” Stacey said. “We stumbled on a bunch of things that are the same about us.”
“It feels like we’ve known each other forever,” Jack said.
The waitress appeared and cleared away some of their plates, and when she departed Joshua leaned forward and actually kept his voice down, as he said, “did you see the way she kept looking at you? Stacey, everyone looks at you like that, especially the girls, like you’re famous!”
“I didn’t notice anything,” Stacey said, still feeling light-headed. “It’s probably just that I look like I climbed out of a train wreck—who doesn’t look at someone that’s all banged up?”
“Oh, it’s happening,” Jack agreed. “I noticed it when we walked from the park, and in the Coffee Dump. You weren’t banged up then. There’s definitely something about you.”
“I think it is something about me not belonging here, the girl said something about that. Did you notice what the girl was doing, in the truck, with her hands, and fingers?” Stacey asked.
“She was behind me, but I could sense her moving her hands,” Michael said.
“Yeah,” Joshua said, “it was like she was doing sign language.”
“What did it look like to you?” Stacey asked Jack.
“She was going like this,” Jack said, and lifted both hands before his face and moved them about, pointing his fingers and sliding them to one side and the next.
“Does that look familiar?” Stacey said to Michael.
“Like she was using a tablet,” Michael said.
“Yes!” Stacey said, rewarded by the small man’s understanding. Michael certainly was quick on the uptake. But Joshua? Well, Joshua had…enthusiasm.
“But she didn’t have anything,” Joshua said.
“She didn’t have anything we could see,” Stacey replied, “but she definitely was using something like that, like an invisible tablet. But bigger than a tablet.”
“Which is impossible,” Jack concluded, his eyebrows raised near his hairline.
“At least it is impossible for anything we know, that kind of technology does not exist. Not yet,” Stacey said.
“So, what, exactly?” Michael said, still in that same frozen posture. He didn’t even move his head. “Are you saying she’s a time traveler, from the future?”
“Come on!” roared Joshua.
After the three individual mimes for quiet and Joshua’s cringe of apology, Stacey continued, “I think it would seem like that to us, that she’s from the future. But I don’t think that’s what’s going on.” He looked at them, one by one. “You all play video games.” It wasn’t a question.
Joshua leaned forward but before he could launch into a list of his favorite games, Stacey showed him his palms, and the giant nodded, grinning.
“Go on,” Michael encouraged.
“When you are in a video game, the better ones, you can call up a menu, various controls, and make adjustments, without halting the gameplay, right?”
“Come on,” Jack blurted. He waved his hands, indicating the restaurant. “You can’t think that all of this is some high-tech video game, I mean, we can tell the difference, right? This is all obviously real, we’re real. Look around. This is reality.”
Stacey lifted his hand before his face and flexed it, studying all the lines and wrinkles. He turned his wrist and looked at the back of his hand.
“I seem real to me, as do all of you,” Stacey said. “But if you were playing your favorite game, and met with someone, in the game I mean, and they seemed real to you, and you talked to them, and after a little discussion you realized that this person—”
“—an NPC!” Joshua said, delighted, not too slow on the uptake himself.
“Yes, a character in the game, a part of the game, the kind of details that make the game so real, so convincing, do you think the NPC would think himself…real?” Stacey said, lowering his hand to his coffee mug. “He’s part of the game. To him, the game is reality. You probably couldn’t convince him that the world he knows and loves is just a game for your pleasure, a game created to waste time.”
“I don’t think it’s a waste of time,” Joshua said, then looked about him at the faces looking at him, registering the expressions. “Yeah, okay, I see your point. So, what, you think we’re in…The Matrix?”
“More like The Thirteenth Floor,” Stacey said.
“A city simulation,” Michael said. “But that’s a good coincidence.”
“Tell us,” Jack said, perking up. He had been sinking lower and lower into the booth, but the mention of coincidence ever revived his curiosity. He could be called the Keeper of Coincidence.
“We have The Thirteenth Floor in our movie library, but neither of us had ever watched it, the cover just didn’t look that intriguing, neither of us even remember buying it,” Michael said.
“And Old Ben, he suggested that we watch it before we went to bed,” Joshua said, rolling his eyes, pounding on the table.
“I haven’t seen it,” Jack said, “but that’s a great coincidence.”
“It’s about a society in the future that runs society simulations, and in one of the simulations the NPCs set up and start running their own simulation.”
“So the guys in the simulation think they’re real,” Joshua said, managing to just barely contain himself, “it’s a really cool movie. Maybe not as exciting as The Matrix, but still, it blows your mind.”
“It’s odd that the two movies came out at almost the same time,” Stacey said.
“How’s that odd?” Michael said, and moved for the first time. He laid his arms upon the table (and he had to reach a far distance, as the table was so far away from him, and Stacey feared the small man might slip off the bench and fall under the table).
“It struck me at the time—I saw both movies in the theater when they came out—that a lot of people were having similar thoughts to mine. Thoughts about reality. Long before 1999 I had begun to almost, I don’t know, I had been—struggling, with the idea that a lot of what happens, that I experience, really my whole life, just seems too arranged, to such a degree it just doesn’t seem like it could be real, like the coincidences, they’d been happening so much that I thought something must be…off. Something was going on.”
They sat in silence, all of them staring at the table and the clutter of dishes and half-eaten food.
“I always thought of them as miracles,” Stacey continued after a few moments. “I thought God was helping me. That’s how I always explained it, to me. I lost my Grandfather’s hubcab, he had an old T-bird, and he let me borrow it, and I was roaring about town, peeling out, doing all the inappropriate things a seventeen-year-old does—sorry Jack, you don’t seem like you’d be the kind of kid to do those things—but somewhere in my racing around, I lost one of my Grandfather’s hubcaps, and he just gave me a look when I returned the car, and I felt terrible about it. So I prayed. I asked God to lead me to the hubcap. The next day I was driving my car, another old car, actually, my Grandpa gave me that car as well, an old 1956 Oldsmobile Rocket 88 that I called Galadriel—everyone I knew was confused by the name, nobody had read The Lord of the Rings, at least no one I ever knew.
“And I’d been having radiator problems with the car, that’s why my Grandpa loaned me his T-bird, so that I could pick up parts for Galadriel, and I had replaced everything, including the radiator, all the hoses, and thought I had the problem finally fixed. But that day, the day after I lost the hubcab, I was out driving in the desert between Quartz Hill and Lancaster—that’s in Southern California, LA is just down below—and stupid Galadriel overheated again, again, after all the fixes,” Stacey said, and Joshua snickered, but Michael lifted his hand for quiet.
“It’s just that’s so funny, Galadriel overheating, can’t you picture her getting all flushed in the face?”
Jack laughed, and then said to Stacey, “Go on, so what happened?”
“Well I was out in the middle of nowhere, about five miles from home—I did a lot of walking, because Galadriel was an old lady and kept breaking down everywhere—so I got out of the car, angry, cussing, cursing the universe for giving me such a bum rap, and I walked to the front of the car, just stood there pissed off in front of the massive chrome bumper—I had pulled off the road onto the dirt, and I looked, and right there, a foot away from Galadriel’s tire, lying in the dirt, half-buried, was the hubcap from my Grandpa’s T-bird.”
“Whoa,” Joshua said, “cool!”
“Did you think it was weird, I mean then, right then when you found it?” Michael asked, looking charmed by the story.
“I was praying, as I lifted the hubcab out of the dirt, I was thanking God, because it was a miracle. I mean, if you didn’t know what to look for, you wouldn’t have even seen it, the hubcap was covered in loose sand, and yet it was literally twelve inches away from where Galadriel was parked off the road. I dusted it off, placed it in the passenger seat, and I figured I’d try Galadriel again, I got in the car, turned the key, Galadriel fired up, and the red light was off in the dashboard, she was running perfectly, and I drove home, and Galadriel never had a problem overheating again. Think about it, I had driven all over town, all over Lancaster to various part shops, maybe logging thirty-two miles that day. I could have lost the hubcap literally anywhere during my driving.
“It was a miracle, an answered prayer, the odds of Galadriel overheating right there, after all her cooling parts were replaced, it just didn’t make sense, the odds were astronomical. I gave my Grandpa the hubcap and told him everything—well, maybe not everything, I think I forgot to mention all the peeling out and dust clouds I’d been making, doughnuts, all the screeching of tires, that T-bird had some power—”
“—you just conveniently forgot those hot-rodding details,” Joshua snorted.
“Well, you know, as a kid, what was important to me was that I had prayed to God for something kind of crazy, I mean what does God care about lost hubcaps? I prayed, and my car boiled over right at the very answer of my request. Galadriel overheating was the answer to my prayer!”
“That just sounds wrong,” Joshua said, guffawing like a mountain coughing out volcanic steam. “Poor Galadriel. Elrond is gonna get you, Stacey.”
“That’s more about answered prayer,” Jack said, “not so much coincidence. I believe God answers prayer.”
“Well, yes, that’s how I viewed it, and my Grandpa as well, he said it was God, that He had answered my prayer. He was very spiritual. But think about it, if I hadn’t of prayed, if I had never made that request, and the same thing happened, it would still be as bizarrely coincidental, if I hadn’t prayed, I might have concluded that Galadriel herself had led me to the lost hubcap, which would have been even more bizarre a conclusion. But things like that have happened my whole life, when I prayed for it, and even when I didn’t pray for it. I thought I was charmed. Blessed.”
“So you figure that, in some way,” Michael chimed in, “that the universe is communicating with you, that it has been a two-way street, that you talk to God, and that God talks back to you, or at least gives you these miracles?”
“I noticed that these kinds of things did not happen to anyone else I knew, and so I kind of naturally thought that it somehow meant that I was special, that it was all about me. Throughout my life the supernatural kept reaching out and touching me, and I couldn’t figure it out, what it meant, why the supernatural responded to me in such an open way, but through my life I began to wonder what was going on, was reality what everyone thought it was? I mean it was never like a system, I sent an order to God and he filled the request—I never thought of it that way—most of the things I prayed for never came to be, and my life has been something of a downward spiral, and in school when I came across Plato’s Cave—”
“—I was just talking about Plato’s Cave with my Pop Pop,” Jack interrupted, too loudly. “Just last night.”
“See how they keep piling up?” Stacey said, “in any kind of reality we know, this doesn’t happen like this, that we all keep bumping into these connected things, like magic—The Thirteenth Floor, 1Q84—there are only a few reasonable explanations, either it is just coincidence, happy accidents, and they don’t mean anything, or we are pulling at the loose threads of reality. The government experimenting on us, or aliens controlling us, or God playing checkers.”
Michael closed his eyes, removed his glasses with one hand, and held them frozen before his face, and massaged the bridge of his nose with his other hand.
“I don’t know,” Michael said, and then, “I don’t know. I just…don’t…know.”
“So it comes down to answered prayer,” Jack said, “or some kind of programming. God, or The Matrix?”
“For us,” Stacey said, “sitting in an IHOP, it seems like we are all four going crazy, or someone is actually time travelling from the future to visit us, or magic is real, or the Devil and God are fighting over us, but whatever it is, the whole world is shaking around us. The universe is collapsing all around us.”
“We could all be in a mental institution, drooling, or just one of us is, and we are imagining the other three,” Joshua said, sounding like he was trying to be helpful. “I think maybe Michael is really Hurley, you know, from Lost, in that coo-coo house?”
“This Old Ben character,” Michael said, ignoring Joshua. “He has just recently reached out and touched the four of us, in one way or another. Is he from God, is he the Devil, is he another time traveler? Or maybe he is another Non-Player Character…?”
“He is our connection, it would seem he is the guy that is pulling our strings, but I don’t mean to make it sound like we are puppets,” Stacey said.
“But that’s really what scares you the most, isn’t it?” Jack said.
“I guess that’s what I’m trying to say, that’s what scares me, although I have to tell you, Jack, and you Joshua, and Michael, I’m not really afraid. Jack? Do you still have that book?”
“Oh yeah, I’ve still got that book, I dare anyone to try and take it from me,” Jack said, opening his backpack (for some reason he always kept the back right there, against his knees). He produced the slim paperback and passed it to Stacey.
Stacey showed the book to Joshua and Michael. “Ever hear of it?”
Simulacron-3,” Michael read the cover. He shook his head, once, his body barely moving. “Never heard of it.”
“Daniel F. Galouye,” Joshua read the author’s name, shaking his head.
“It was published in 1964,” Stacey said after checking inside the front cover. “But what I wanted to show you was this,” he said, pulling the slip of folded paper from the book.
Jack had out his phone and was moving his fingers about on the surface, distinctly reminding Stacey of the girl just a few short hours before.
“You are not going to believe this,” Jack said, tensing the others. “The movie, The Thirteenth Floor, it was based on the novel Simulacron-3.” He turned his phone, showing it to the others, displaying a Wikipedia page.
Stacey paused in unfolding the bookmark. “So today,” he said, “Old Ben conveniently left a copy of Simulacron-3 for us to find in the Coffee Dump, and last night he recommended The Thirteenth Floor to you for movie night.”
“Move Night is Saturday night,” Joshua corrected, then started when Michael mock-slapped his arm.
Stacey passed the note to Joshua.
“Don’t be afraid,” Joshua read. “He said that to us, too.”
“What that, at the bottom?” Michael said, pointing to the pencil scribble.
“The planet Saturn,” Stacey said.
Michael, leaning against Joshua to read the note in his hands, said, “So I guess whatever this is, whatever is happening, we should do our best not to let it terrify us.”
“Old Ben links the four of us together, and what do you think he could be hinting at with his choice of reading material, and movie watching?” Stacey said, thinking about the girl at her large invisible tablet. “And why, why is he giving us all this information?”
“But you can’t think we’re in a goop-filled egg, could you?” Joshua said, for the first time keeping his voice low, almost too quiet to hear.
“Coppertops,” Jack said, weakly, utterly devoid of his usual good humor.
“No, that’s not the direction I’m thinking,” Stacey said, almost sadly. “Although the four of us have seemingly taken the blue pill—wait, was it the red pill?”
“You think we might be NPCs, don’t you?” Jack said.
Stacey paused, thinking, opened his mouth to speak, but then he sagged back in the booth, and closed his mouth.
“It’s two forty-five p.m.,” Michael said, extending his arm to display an outrageously large wristwatch. The watch had a large digital face, and even though it looked old; also seeming packed with too many alternate displays and buttons, far more complicated than the current slew of smartwatches and iWatches.
“Oh boy,” Jack said, “is this the part of our video game where you reveal that you are from the future?”
“We’ve been here for almost three hours, it’s the middle of the day,” Michael said, ignoring Jack. “So why is it so dark outside?”
They all looked, and it was dark, darker than snow sky, or even if a storm front had rumbled in. It looked like evening was approaching, because even as they watched it great darker still.
“I think we should get over to Jack’s tree,” Stacey said.
“It’s too early,” Joshua said, too loudly, watching outside the window, as it now appeared to be night.
Stacey drew out his wallet and placed four twenty dollar bills on the table, and even considering how many times Joshua ordered from the menu there was still a sizable tip included, but then he reconsidered and placed the remainder of his cash on the pile of money. Now the waitress would receive a forty dollar tip. She deserved it, he thought, especially when considering how dark it was outside, how dark it now felt in here, let her have a few happy thoughts before the world ended.
“Oh I would have paid,” Joshua said, finally noticing Stacey’s accounting with the check on the table.
“Should we show up this early?” Michael queried, sounding doubtful.
“Let’s go, come on Jack, hurry up Michael,” Stacey commanded, seizing Joshua by a meaty arm and groaning as he pulled the giant from the booth.
“Do we have time to use the restroom?” Jack said, giving Stacey an embarrassed grin.
“Yeah, good idea, everyone use the bathroom, come on, I just have a feeling, we gotta get out there, as soon as possible, but everyone should use the facilities after sitting her for three hours,” Stacey said.
“Plus I must have a ton of coffee burbling in me,” Jack said. He hadn’t used the restroom since this morning in the park, when he began his first goblet of exquisite brew.
Five minutes later and they were all out in front of the restaurant, looking across the street to the park. Jack could just see his tree and table across a slight undulation of the park’s lawns, despite the darkness. All the streetlights were on, and solar-panel lamps throughout the park were winking.
“Should we go this early, Stacey?” Michael asked again, glancing at his watch, “it’s only—” he paused and did a double-take, peering at his watch, “this can’t be right. Something is wrong with my watch.”
“It is 5:55,” Jack said, looking at his phone screen.
Stacey checked his watch, it agreed with Jack’s.
Michael showed his watch to them, it changed from 5:55 to 6:00 while they watched.
“Doot-doo-doot-doo, doot-doo-doot-doo,” Joshua merrily did a somewhat spooky rendition of the Twilight Zone theme.
“I would have gone with the X Files,” Stacey and Jack said as one, and looked at each other, and burst into laughter.
“Now I’m thinking we might be late instead of early,” Michael said, “if we don’t hurry.”
They started across the parking lot, Michael immediately falling behind on his canes, as even hurrying as fast as he could, he could just manage an average person’s less than fast pace.
“Michael, it is 6:30,” Stacey said, jogging backward until he drew level with Michael, and started walking forward, “Time is ticking away, oh, here, let me carry you.” He reached as if he were to take the small man in his arms.
“Don’t you dare!” Michael snapped, staring grimly ahead, and he began loping on his canes, dangerously wobbling from side to side. Even at this new dangerous pace, he was going too slow.
Joshua came back and snatched Michael up in his arms.
“Put me down!” Michael thundered, producing a very impressive volume of voice from such a small frame, causing Stacey to wince.
“It’s okay, Michael,” Stacey said, “it’s an emergency.”
“I can walk! Put me down, Joshua! You boob!” Michael thundered even louder.
“Hold onto your canes, Mikey,” Joshua said, grinning, and began to run.
They jaywalked the street, Stacey and Jack looking both ways for traffic, but the city seemed suddenly hushed, and they saw fewer and fewer people out and about, and surprisingly no vehicles. They hurried into the park, first on the sidewalks and then soon onto the lawns. Stacey glanced at his watch and saw it was already after seven in the evening. Trotting at a good pace, following Jack who was dancing about up ahead with nervous energy, Stacey looked for any trace of the sun in the black sky. Apparently, it actually was evening. Time was moving, but not only that, it was actually accelerating.
“I’m telling you Joshua!” Michael screamed.
“Michael! That’s enough!” Stacey boomed.
Michael ceased his struggles in Joshua’s grasp. He looked down from his high perch at Stacey and his glasses flashed. He nodded at Stacey, now fully in control of his emotions.
A loud bonging bell tolled across the city. It was the loudest sound Stacey had ever heard in his life. It sounded like a cannon. Michael clamped his hands over his ears. Jack tripped and tumbled in the grass. Joshua roared with laughter.
The reverberations of the bell rolled on and on like rolling sonic boom. They were all paused in their dash across the park. Joshua standing holding Michael whose hands slowly came away from his ears, Stacey standing spread eagled, his head tilted back to the sky, his mouth open, and Jack sprawled in the grass, grinning stupidly up at the sky.
No sooner had the last echoes of the bell faded, and it came again, crashingly loud and terrifying.
“Move, move, keep going!” Stacey shouted, waving his arms, but it was as if his throat produced no sound, so buried was the entire world in the chiming of the great heavenly clock. He grabbed Joshua by the arm and began tugging him and the big man slowly came to life and started running with Michael in his arms, hugged to his chest, the smaller man grimly clenching his eyes shut, his hands clamped down again over his ears.
Jack scrambled up from the grass and did a frenzied search for his backpack, and after finding it, he dashed after the others who were already past him.
Stacey held up his watch and pushed the button for light. Eight o’clock, and all’s not well. He wished he had the watch set so that when he turned his wrist it would light up, but he had disabled that feature as the solar batteries kept running out, and now it would be far too complicated to figure out how to turn it back on. But to his way of figuring, an hour had just passed in about one minute. If it continued at this same pace they had four minutes to get to the tree, but he was grimly fearful that it would only accelerate. He figured it would be midnight when the clock stopped tolling, and it had rung twice already, or was it three times? And hadn’t Michael said they were supposed to be to the tree at five before midnight?
They were almost to the bench and tree but it was so dark now it was difficult to tell the distance, and even the park lamps seemed to be muffled. The third (or fourth?) great gong sounded, and the ground shook. They heard a loud splitting sound, either the greatest bolt of lightning ever loosed upon the Earth, or the sky itself was cracking like crystal. The noise did not fade, but was joined by other loud cracks in the heavens.
Jack soon dashed past the group and headed straight to where he knew they should go, even though now he couldn’t see it any longer, he really couldn’t see anything, but he was at the tree, standing before the tall shadow, looking about, desperate to find Old Ben waiting for them there, but there was nobody, just the preternatural darkness, and the rolling peal of the bell, and the sound of shattering glass, amplified, all about them, above them, filling the world.
“Stacey!” Jack roared as the great bell bonged again.
The others joined Jack beneath the tree. Joshua went to lower Michael to the ground but the small man clung to his neck.
“Don’t put me down,” he yelled into Joshua’s ears, but Joshua could not hear him because the great bell was bashing down upon them again.
The tree actually swayed and trembled by the sonic punch, and Stacey—always graceful and the most balanced of men—almost toppled over. He grabbed Jack and steadied himself. The ground lifted like a carpet and snapped beneath their feet.
“The tree, look!” Michael cried.
Finally, illumination, the four letters engraved in the trunk of the tree were lit as if from within. As they watched it seemed the letters, J-A-C-K, caught on fire, only there was no fire.
“Touch it!” Stacey shouted close to Jack’s ear.
“I’m not touching that!” Jack roared back.
The bell tolled again, a great rolling BONG, and this time they all were knocked to their knees, only Michael was able to ride it out, held above the ground in Joshua grasp.
“How many times has it chimed?” Joshua shouted, his extremely loud voice sounding not so loud now, but they could hear him above the shaking reverberations of the great chime.
“Lost count!” Stacey roared back. He was still holding onto Jack’s shoulders.
“I think we must be on eight!” Jack screamed, tears rolling down his face. “It might be nine, or ten, I don’t know!”
For all Stacey could recount, they might be on the thirty-second crashing sky bong, because it seemed to fill eternity, it seemed he had always heard that great clock smashing out the hours. Stacey glanced at his watch and pushed the button. Ten o’clock.
Something vast crashed to the lawns of the park and it shattered when it hit. It sounded like smashing glass. Then on the other side of the park there was a similar crash, and another, and each blast moved the very ground beneath them. They could not see what was happening, but it was vast, and terrible. Something whizzed past Stacey's face in the dark. It felt like a bullet.
The next tolling of the bell began and threw Jack away from Stacey and he caught himself from falling by throwing his arms about the trunk of the tree.
Stacey was on the ground, his hands over his ears, and he was bouncing as if he was on a great train leaving the tracks and grinding into rock. Dimly, he saw Jack’s shape climbing up the tree, and Jack’s hand reaching, stretching up.
As Jack’s hand fell upon the four letters that spelled his name a great light burst about them. Stacey saw a great circle of light form with the four letters at its center. The circle was a bright tracing of blue. It looked like an eight-foot tall hobbit-hole door.
“Friend!” Joshua yelled, up on his knees, still clutching Michael. “Anyone know the elvish word for friend? Or shouldn’t it be dwarfish? Friend! FRIEND!”
Stacey crawled toward Joshua who was now up in a half crouch, just inches from the glowing circle of blue light. Stacey jumped and placed his hands on Joshua’s thick spine and shoved him with all his worth, and Joshua and Michael vanished into the circle, one moment there and the next, not.
“Go Jack!” Stacey thundered, grabbing Jack by the arm and bodily heaving the kid into the light, and even as Jack vanished the loudest toll of the bell began and Stacey just perceived that the circle was rapidly dwindling, sucking into itself, and he threw himself at the circle that was now no more than three feet across, and he knew he was too late as the world crashed down and shattered about him.

Next Episode.

© Copyright 2016 Douglas Christian Larsen. Vestigial Surreality. All Rights Reserved by the Author, Douglas Christian Larsen. No part of this serial fiction may be reproduced (except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews) or transmitted by any means without the written permission of the publisher, Wolftales UNlimited, but please feel free to share the story with anyone, only not for sale or resale. This work is a work of fiction. People, places, events, and situations are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or historical events, is purely coincidental (wink, wink).

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related terms, ideas, works:
ancestor simulation, digital ark, salvation of humanity,
vestigial surreality, manda project, rocket to saturn,
the singularity, the butterfly effect, simulated reality, matrix,
virtual reality, otherland, the matrix, 1q84, haruki murakami,
hard-boiled wonderland and the end of the world, dreaming,
the dream place, waking from a dream, ready player one,
hologram, holodeck, saturn, saturnalia, cycles of time,
simulacron-3, daniel f. galouye, counterfeit world,
tad williams, science fantasy, science fiction,
Victor Frankenstein, Nikola Tesla, genius
do we live in a computer simulation?
mystery, thriller, horror, techno thriller,
signs and wonders, vestigial surreality,
william gibson, neal stephenson, serial,
cyberpunk, dystopian future, apocalypse,
scifi, mmorpg, online video game world,
end times, apocalypse, armageddon,
digital universe, hologram universe,
sunday sci-fi fantasy serial fiction,
virtual reality, augmented reality
the unknown writer blog
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puppets, puppetry, punch
Elon Musk, Tesla, VR

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