I woke up one morning to an intense scenario, gripped by a dream I was having.
It was a crisp evening. The puddles on the ground seemed almost to pulsate with the heavy raindrops. As Jules looked up, the vertical force of the water was turning to slo-mo the more she tilted her head.
“Fuckwit – get inside!” yelled Nate, bundling out of the cab, holding a handful of take out menus over his head. He stayed low and in a rugby tackling move, grabbed Jules around the waist. Because her legs stayed rooted to the pavement, his grip slid up her body so her top half bent forward and the two of them ploughed into the bus stop laughing.
“JEEZUUS!” said Jules sucked back into real time. She grabbed the menus and paper whipped Nate around the face, showering raindrops as she did so. He deflty grabbed both her arms and held them behind her back
“Yeah? Yeah?” he said planting a firm kiss on her lips, which got even firmer when Tarok and Romey barrelled into both of them. The Uber drove off, and after a brief silence the four burst out laughing.
Jules and Nate were always on, always off. Sorry, not sorry, engaged, married, fuck buddies, you name it, they’d done it. Always a drama, but deep down, devoted to each other. Romey had slept with both of them, both individually with Nate (tho more times than Jules was actually aware) and with both of them together. She was a high IQ girl and good friends with Tarok as they both moonlighted for extra uni money for a local independent animation company called Z-iD.
Z-iD was near perfect employment as it payed a mint and the working hours were as flexible as you needed them to be. The offices were in a disused building called The Pyramids, home to a music venue, gym and swimming pool. The gym and swimming pool were still in operation, now with slick LED lighting and video walls. All free to use by Z-iD employees. The 1990s flumes had been replaced with an uber aqua assault course but the venue now housed the offices. The inside of the venue had been the largest pyramid and was now an array of split levels connected by seamlessly gliding paths and travellators, not unlike a Harry Potter film. The place was kitted out with T-Ware, the latest Tesla computers. This enabled a keyboard to be viewed on any of the T-glass desks which could be operated by hands or sight and then viewed on a see through visor worn by the user.
The three founders of Z-iD (Zak, Ian and Daveed) were all Portsmouth Uni grads. Zak and Ian were in IT but Daveed was a BioChem student whose dissertation was following trials of a series of pharmaceuticals used to treat patients with OCD. The premise was to suspend disbelief as a way of forgetting the irrational thoughts associated with OCD by allowing patients to be more absorbed in the activities around them. Daveed, a keen gamer had been investigating (and personally trialling throughout his three year uni course) whether the drugs could alter our perception when hearing or watching a fictional narrative – such as a computer game. Our systems for assessing reality can easily be shut down when watching a film. We go into perceiving mode and our brains turn off the systems for acting or planning to act. The drugs rely on deep brain stimulation, historically a surgical procedure, but, confident in its research, Z-iD had recently launched DEBS for Beta testing with a new series of immersive gaming.
So far the trials had gone without a hitch and tonight’s entertainment came in a blue padded envelope containing disc Scenario #5, The Whodunnit. Also, four small blue and yellow plastic oval capsules containing a timed release dose of DEBS, suitable for the length of the scenario and four small round white recovery pills. These were to be taken as an extra calm me down, if required, as some people found the transition between game time and real time a bit of a headfuck when the scenario had finished.
It was possible to watch the movie as an enhanced DVD, but, as an employee of Z-iD, Romey had 4 of the visors at home and had configured them to her apartment. This meant the viewers were able to have a virtual reality experience whilst walking around and interacting without the usual cumbersome VR headsets. Courtesy of £10k worth of T-ware.
They ducked through the rain again, Romey reaching between Jules and Nate to activate the key lock and the light wooden door opened as they practically fell into the hallway.
“Are you scared?” said Jules “I mean have you actually done this before?”
“Yeah loads.” said Romey “But we weren’t involved in this story. It supposedly is pretty sick, and not exactly on script… if you know what I mean.”
“Bring it on – c’mon!” Tarok leapt up the stairs two or three at a time grabbing Romeys keys out of her hand and flung the first floor door open. The room was quite emptied out, so the four could easily move around without bumping into furniture. There was a door to the kitchen off the main large room which had a QR code printed out on A4 paper and blue tacked up at eye level. Some stairs led up to the next floor almost like a mezzanine to the bedroom and bathroom which overhung the front room. Along the front of the split level was half wall and half glass, divided horizontally and the glass had some fancy 70sesque frosting decals on it put on by the previous tenant.
“Beers, beers bee-eers!” Chanted Nate heading straight to the kitchen. Coats came off, beers were opened, spliffs were rolled and Romey put the blue envelope on the table.
“Ok, kitchen is the safe zone. ANY hint of freaking out, just look at the QR code on the door and the programme will do the rest and calmly bring you out of the storyline. I know cos I’ve done it a thousand times. We’ll be believing what we see but also able to see each other in reality and piss about if we want to. It’s kind of up to us as a group how real this shit gets.”
“Well you might be dead, see how real you think this shit is then Watsooon!”
“Yeah ok Sherlock, you might be dead yourself! We all need to choose a visor, A, B, C or D which will identify us as the murderer, the murderee or the two left to work it out. Is everyone cool with this, it is gonna be a bit of a headfuck? I know the girls who wrote this shit!”
“Let’s do it! Come on, we’ve talked this through a million times at the pub.” (putting on a fake american accent) “What’s the worst that can happen? You’ll take care of me Nate won’t you honey?” Jules gave Nate her best doe eyed come to bed eyes.
“Pick a visor – any visor!” Romey swung the eye wear round her head.
“3 – is my lucky number!” twerked Jules suddenly standing up.
“Magic number, it’s magic number!” Nate came back at her whacking her arse with a cushion “I’ll have a number 2 please Bob – haha!”
“Well obviously as top dog I’ll be Romey number 1 so it’s 4 for you Mr Tarok! Talk amoungst yerselves everyone, I’m gonna set it up…”
She put on her visor and booted the console in the corner of the room.
“Ooeer shit, I am quite scared now – in a good way…”
Nate put both his arms up in a protective embrace. “Oh little Julsey, I’ll protect you from the big bad murderer – unless I am the big bad murderer mwahaha” and went to grab Jules about the head but she deftly ducked out of the way pegging it to the kitchen yelling “Safe zone! Safe zone! You can’t get me!! – oooh look a bottle of tequila – shall we?”
“Tequila – it makes me happy! Hey Romey, where’s your poncho, that makes me happy too!” Tarok rummaged through the coat rail until he found the orange and turquoise fringed poncho on a hangar at the back. He threw it over his head and joined Jules in the kitchen.
“Ha-hoo! A fresh bottle of agarve!” He deftly made his way through the kitchen cupboards until he found a tub of salt and yelled “Romey! Lemons?”
“Apples it is then!” He threw an apple from a wire bowl on top of the microwave, and caught it in his other hand while grabbing a knife from the draining board. He cut it into quarters, peeled off the skin and cut out the core. Using a plate as a small tray, he put the tub of cooking salt in the middle and arranged the apple pieces around the outside. He made his way to the kitchen door with the bottle of tequila in his other hand and shook his poncho tassles triumphantly at the awaiting ensemble. With the prowess of a cocktail waiter he laid the tray on the small table with the bottle, picked up four mis matched shot glasses in one hand from the windowsill and proceeded to arrange them around the tray:
“One tequila, two tequila, three tequila – floor!”
“Oh Tarok, you are sooo creative.” said Jules pulling out her phone and snapping a pic of the visually perfect tequila display.
“Like a native babe, like a native!” he racked up the tequilas
“Ok, we’re on!” said Romey swinging round from the console, hand on hip and jauntily pulling her visor down slightly so she was able to peer at the expectant crowd from underneath it. “Visors on boys and girls!”
The visors needed to sit quite low on your forehead so they connected with pulse points and your reactions could be incorporated into the game. A small blue light at the side indicated when they were sitting at the right level and the happy foursome were good to go. Romey popped the pills out of their small plastic casings and popped one in each glass of tequila, like a small multi coloured mescal worm.
She looked at Jules, licked the back of her hand seductively and poured out a few grains of salt. She sucked the salt off slowly and picked up a shot glass.
“Whoooooh.” she exhaled and knocked it back.
“Attagirl!” said Nate “Come on then, 3, 2, 1…”
He poured out a mountain of salt and slathered his tongue in it before handing it to Tarok and Jules. Together the three of them chinked their shot glasses and downed the contents then stuffed the apple into their mouths and chewed ferociously like tiny hamsters.
There was a brief bus stop moment where again all four were silent before errupting in giggles and laughter.
“Oh shit, shit shit” said Jules “I need more tequila!”
The evening carried on, albeit slightly enhanced. It was difficult to pinpoint the difference except that everyone was slightly more in tune with everyone else. Tarok was finding Jules’ dimples irresistible, and he’d never even noticed them before. It was as if sometimes any one of them would have a first person glimpse of what another of them was actually seeing through their visor. Tarok and Nate assumed their beanbag posture in fits of giggles while playing a mash up game of Forge of Empires populated by blue Sonic hedgehogs. Romey and Jules were upstairs talking about Nate, last night’s episode of Westeros and how well Justin Beiber was coming across on the new reality Mission to Mars show.
“Holy crap!” said Nate suddenly swinging round. “How long’s that been going on?”
Through the mezzanine frosted glass at the top of the stairs they could see one of the girls suspended by her arms slightly swaying while the other girl stood in front of her. Although Romey was darker skinned than Jules, when looking through the visor, they couldn’t tell who was who. As they squinted through the gaps in the frosted decal it became clear that whoever was suspended had a V shaped cut on their body running from her shoulders down to a mid point between her breasts. But they weren’t just cuts they were like previous surgical or psycho killer cuts that had since been sewn up and hence, no blood, just a slight pinking. The other girl was however holding a large knife and was still ‘working’ on the suspended body. The boys looked at each other again. They both had the same sensation of fight or flight. Their arses were firmly rooted in the bean bags but their legs were trying, and failing, to get up due to being completely liquefied. They stared fervently as if hooked in a really gripping horror movie watching their two closest friends psycho out on each other.
Romey, suspended, was thinking “Fuck me I’m dead! That’s just completely surreal. I’m like out of the story. I kind of remember losing hold of my life.”
Jules was thinking intently whilst twirling the knife tip against her index finger. All the cuts were done to finish the job and it had been a good job. She was now working on a tribal henna paste style pattern of cuts on Romeys thigh which was gonna look awesome when it had scarred over.
The boys downstairs were going insane. At the back of their minds they knew this was the game and their eyes shone with heightened excitement. Their arms grabbed each others arms at the elbows and their fingers gripped almost in rigor mortis as they were unable to move.
“Fucking hell this is MENTAL!!” said Nate “We’ve got to save her whoever ‘her’ is!”
“I don’t know how we’re supposed to work it out” said Tarok “What, are there like clues or something somewhere?”
“Oh my God.” Nate was still sitting down and hugging his own knees now. “Jules!” he yelled.
Without moving, Tarok and Nate looked at each other. 5 and a half seconds went by although it felt like more like 5 and a half hours. Things were metrosexually getting a little uncomfortable between them.
Tarok broke off their little arrangement first. “Shit man, we gotta get a grip! I’ve played dozens of games like this. Everything we need is here, we’ve got to get up those stairs and suss out who’s killed who.”
He turned his head around quickly to look upstairs, but there was no sign of either of the girls.
“SHIIIIT!” said Nate and laughed. “You Z creeps certainly know how to put the spooky shits up someone!”
By now they’d managed to summon a combined courage and headed up the mezzanine stairs, Tarok taking some kind of reluctant “I should be knowing what I’m doing” lead. He peered nervously through a gap in the 70s frosting.
“Uh-eeerrrrr!!” he vocalised sounding slightly strangled himself. He could see something body like lying on the floor and covered by a duvet and it looked strangely long and the duvet went down in the middle. After a furtive check both ways along the corridor, their other friend was nowhere to be seen and he gingerly turned the brushed aluminium doorknob. Soundlessly the door opened and the two guys, barely breathing, for fear of breaking the moment took in the devils duvet on the floor.
“Jules!” whispered Nate, slightly stooping towards the motionless duvet. “Is that you?”
“Hah! Wro-ooong!!” giggled Jules from the end of the corridor “I’m the murderer!” She strode purposefully towards them grabbing a corner of the duvet and whisking it off Romey’s body as she approached them. Or at least the two halves of Romey’s body. The three of them now stopped in stunned silence. Romey was well and truly in two halves, severed straight through the middle with the tribal henna design carved in a raw bloody and beautiful design over her skin.
Nate slowly removed his visor still taking in the vision of horror. Automatically Jules and Tarok did the same. Tarok steeled himself as a wave of reality washed over him, spinning his mind, and he knelt down removing Romey’s visor and placed it by the side of her head. He put his hand on her shoulder and, as he watched, her eyes opened. Her severed legs grotesquely contorted to right themselves with the angle of her body. Then, as she pushed herself up with her arms, her legs bum walked themselves over to her midriff. Her top half was raised to normal height and she seemed to walk for a few steps as her legs straightened out and caught up. Tarok’s eyes opened to their absolute widest as if not wanting to miss a moment of this game sensation but eventually his real senses took over.
“Holy shit, that was a freak out” he managed to stammer eventually.
“A freak out, A FREAK OUT!!! I DIED!!” exclaimed Romey “And you killed me!” She stared wide eyed at Jules gesticulating her arms wildy in front of her. Her rational head knew it was the game and that Jules had had no choice about this but at the same time she was livid. She trusted Jules, they were good friends, and she’d experienced Jules killing her. Her wildly gesticulating arms were all she could do to communicate just how messed up she felt about this.
Jules was mortified. Her eyes filled with tears and she flung herself cautiously at Romey in a sorrowful embrace.
“Romey, honey, I don’t even remember why. I think it might have been that Justin Beiber comment that pushed me over the edge…you wouldn’t beliebe!” she flashed Romey a cheeky glance to check her response. Romey had recovered her cool and was looking haughtily hot again.
“Oh you and your Beiber love” she said. “You’re right though, beliebe or die you said. Oh God, I died for Justin Beiber and he’s not even on the planet!”
Tarok and Nate both took a deep breath and exhaled over a long time with raised eyebrows.
“Hi five my man” said Nate. “Let’s get one of these chill pills down us and hit a BK – I’m fucking starving.”
You may have very vivid or bad dreams. This may be because of the anaesthetic you had, or medicines you are taking, or just because of what you have recently been through. These dreams will pass with time.
British Heart Foundation – ‘Having Heart Surgery’ booklet
Chapter 17 ready to be released Monday 2nd December at of course, ten past six. See you there for First, Last and Always. XX