As I sat up in the grass, I realized that it had all been fake. The entire second reality, the insane Kitagawa and even the supposed brain damage I was suffering from. It had all been another part of their simulation.
I grew angry before rage overtook me.
“The fuck do you think you’re doing? This is fucked up! I fuck thought it was real! I thought… This is insane. Why don’t you just get me out of here right now and-“
“Mr. Purlow, I like to inform you,” a voice popped out of nowhere. “In form 48, paragraph 4, point C you specifically agreed to-“
“Yeah, well, fuck off!” I screamed in answer.
This time the voice didn’t anything else.
I stood up and looked around. I was in a meadow and further ahead was a small lake. The moment I saw it, nostalgia washed over me. I knew this lake! It was the one that had been right next to the village my grandparents had lived at.
I let my eyes wander around and I recognized the old cherry tree nearby, the dirt path that led from the like to the village and even the distant forests. How in the hell had they created all this? Had they researched my past or had they somehow scanned my memories? Was something like that even possible?
After a while, not knowing what else to do, I began walking up the path that should lead me to the village. I was stuck in here anyway, without a way to end the simulation myself. And I had to admit, I wanted to see the old village.
I’d barely taken a few steps when I found an old bike lying in the grass. I noticed the black-red metallic color, the old, dirty gears, and the rusted bell. It was the mountain bike I’d owned as a kid. The memories of childhood returned to me and I saw myself racing down dirt paths and forest tracks. I couldn’t help but smile. Things were so different back then. For a moment I considered picking up the bike, but I was way too tall to drive it, anyway.
The path from the lake led to a tiny hill and once I’d made it up there my eyes grew wide. I couldn’t believe it. Once more I wondered how they’d created all this. For a while, I stood there marveling at the sight below.
There was the huge old farmstead. Here were the holiday homes at the edge of the village. Further away was the major part of the village with the church in its center. In front of me, though, was the part that my eyes rested on the longest. It was the lower part of the village which consisted of only a handful of houses, one of them my grandparents’. It had been over fifteen years since I’d last been there.
As I went on my way, I couldn’t help but be impressed by how real everything was. I felt the grass against my legs, the sun on my face, and I smelled the fresh summer air. You could almost forget you were in a simulation, I thought.
No, I reminded myself, don’t fall for it again, you idiot! Not a second time, hell, not a third time!
My steps led me to my grandparent’s house almost on autopilot. It was a small house, with a barn next to it. They’d been farmers for the better part of their life. When I was born though, they’d already abandoned the old trade and had opted for a more relaxed way of living.
The closer I got, the more memories returned to me. I felt goosebumps on my arm when I saw a cat in the grass nearby. It eyed me curiously and when I noticed the brownish, grey stripes on his back, I knew that it had to be my grandma’s old cat, Leo.
The cat watched me for a few more moments before it came over to me, purring and rubbing itself against my legs.
“Hey little fellow,” I greeted it and leaned down to pet it.
I wondered how they’d got everything right up to the smallest detail. Then I wondered if this was really what grandma’s cat had looked like. What if they’d created a vague image of a cat and my brain made the necessary connections that weren’t there and filled in the gaps? Was that how they did all this? Providing nothing but a vague framework for the rest of the brain to work with?
While I stood there, petting the cat and thinking about this, the sky suddenly grew darker. Within moments thick clouds had formed and blocked out the sun before it began to rain. It wasn’t long before the rain had turned into a full-on downpour.
Sure, it was a simulation, but I still felt myself getting wet and I felt the cold gusty wind. Within moments I was freezing and hurried to the open front door of the house. I watched as the downpour continued and saw Leo rush away into the barn. They’d done it all, to the minutest detail.
As I stood there, I wondered why they’d thrown me into a simulation like this. Why my grandparents’ house?
Then, something crawled back into my mind. As I stood there in the small entry hall, I shivered as a memory came back to me. The memory of the single worst day of my entire childhood. I’d never told them about that day! Hell, I’d buried it so deep inside my mind, I hadn’t even remembered it until now! So how did they know about it!?
No, I told myself, I wouldn’t go in. I wouldn’t enter this house. They couldn’t make me, could they? I rushed back outside. All care about the downpour or the cold had vanished. I’d make it to one of the other houses, or just over to the barn.
I don’t know what I was expecting if I thought I could actually do anything.
What I wasn’t expecting were the spiders that suddenly swarmed the ground. At first, there were only a few, but soon it was hundreds, thousands. They covered the grass, the trees, the barn, everything. Everything but my grandparents’ house.
For a moment I closed my eyes. If I don’t see them, they can’t hurt me, right? None of this was real, it was a simulation! Just run, you damned idiot, run, and get away from here.
Yet, I’d barely taken a few steps when I could feel them crawling all over me. They made their way up my legs, my back, and even my arms. I shuddered, tried to ignore it, but finally, I screamed, opened my eyes, and swatted them off me. I was shaking and as I looked ahead I saw that the entire village, no, the entire outside world was covered in thick, heavy spider webs. This whole simulation had become some arachnophobic hell!
When I couldn’t fight it anymore, when my phobia kicked in with full force I rushed back into the house. I didn’t want to go there again, but my body didn’t seem to listen to me anymore.
Still, I knew why they forced me back here. This time they couldn’t make me. No, I wouldn’t move. I’d stay down here, next to the front door. Once more the dreaded memory pushed itself into my head. I lost my balance and started shaking and sweating.
“You goddamn pieces of shit! Fuck you!” I screamed up at the empty, quiet house.
The last time I’d been here was a few days after my grandma had died. After that day, I’d never been to that house again, and I’d never wanted to return to it.
My grandpa had died when I was ten years old and after his death, my grandma had lived on her own. She died one year later. I shuddered thinking about the day I found her.
I sat down on the ground and didn’t do a damn thing. All I did was breathe slowly and steadily to keep the panic at bay as I watched the spiders outside.
“Mr. Purlow, we have to inform you again that you’re required to participate in the simulation. We are aware that you know where you’re supposed to go. Should you remain there without continuing, we’re forced to-“
“Just shut the fuck up! I’m not doing it! I’m not going there!” I screamed again without moving a single inch.
I tried, I honestly tried, but how can you fight something that you’ve got no control over. What can you do in a world that can become anything and do anything to you?
I sat there, unmoving, but after a short while, the spiders outside grew restless before they rushed towards the building. I could barely throw the front door shut, but I could feel it, the pressure of thousands of spiders trying to force their way in. Then I heard it, the sounds, the sounds of spiders crawling and skittering all over the walls outside. As I desperately pushed myself against the door, I saw the windows, the glass, the cracks. A moment later the glass gave way, and a flood of spiders made its way inside. They weren’t crawling inside, they swept into the building; it was nothing but an endless wave of eight-legged horrors. Within moments, they filled the entire first floor of the building.
In my panicked state, I picked the only direction that wasn’t covered in them, the stairs to the second floor. The spiders were coming after me, chasing me. I could feel them on my legs, my arms, felt them tearing at my skin and biting into my flesh. In a panic, I ripped them from my body by the dozens before I threw myself into the only room that wasn’t infested with them.
I was a shivering, shaking mess. Bloody bites covered my arms and legs. Tears stream from my eyes, and I was too exhausted even to curse.
It was only after a few minutes after I’d calmed down that I noticed the sweet, disgusting smell that wafted through the air. I realized where I was.
In a state of shock, I turned away from the door to take in the sight in front of me. It was my grandma’s bedroom. She was right there, lying in her bed, unmoving. The same as she’d been when I was eleven years old. This time though, I knew what was in front of me.
Right there, between the sheets, was the decomposing body of my grandma.
She’d been dead for almost four days when I found her. Back then my parents and lived in a small town only a few kilometers away from her. One day, on a whim, I decided to go visit her. After grandpa’s death, she’d become a lonely woman and had isolated herself from the rest of the world. Still, I loved my grandma, and I thought she’d be happy to see me.
When I didn’t find her outside, I searched the house and finally found her up in her bedroom. A wave of a disgusting sweet smell me when I opened the door. The same smell I’d known from bad, rotten apples. I remember walking up to my grandma to wake her, telling her there must be some apples that had gone bad. It was only at this point that I saw the state she was in. Her face was not that of my grandma anymore. Because of the summer heat and the stuffy air inside the room, it had become a bloated, mushy heap of flesh, covered by maggots and flies. I remember screaming and running from the house only to be found by a neighbor. It was he who’d called the doctor and the mortician. For years the memory of her rotten face and the sweet smell of her rotting body had stayed with me before I’d been able to bury it.
It was this same sweet smell that now crawled up my nostrils. I froze, unable to move or do anything. Suddenly I was eleven years old again. I was not Andre Purlow, the twenty-seven-year-old man in a virtual reality simulation anymore. No, I was little Andy, a scared eleven-year-old boy in his dead grandma’s bedroom.
After the initial shock was over, I turned back to the door of the room, but I couldn’t see it anymore. Where the door had been was now nothing but a solid wall. I looked around, confused, but there was no hint of it anymore. The door had vanished.
I went forward, hitting and beating against the wall hoping to find a way out. With each passing second, the smell of rot grew more and more intense. I gagged, pushed myself as far away from the bed as I could, back into the corner of the room.
I cried, I screamed and pleaded with them to end the simulation. The money didn’t matter anymore, nothing did. All I wanted was to get out of the simulation.
As I sat there, rambling on and on I heard a different sound. At first, I thought it was the spiders again, but then I heard it again, a quiet wet squishing. I almost vomited when a fresh wave of the rotten stink hit me. My eyes watered. I blinked once, twice, and then I saw it.
In front of me, between the sheets, grandma’s body was… moving. I thought it was a reaction because of the decay, but it wasn’t. In sheer and total horror I watched as her rotten corpse got up and her bloated, mushy face focused on me. Her lips were gone, her eyes were tiny, shriveled up like dried raisins. The worst though was the maggots that now fell from it in droves.
I screamed, scrambled back against the wall, began beating it, throwing myself against it, to get away somehow, but it was futile.
“Oh, my dear little Andy,” I heard a distorted version of her voice. The words were barely distinguishable from one another, not much more than a wet gurgle.
“How nice of you to come to visit your old grandma!”
The bedsheets parted, and I could see the full, disgusting horror of her rotten body. The bed was almost a sea of body fluids and she was nothing but an amalgamation of wet, mushy flesh. Her body was torn open, revealing her insides. As she pushed herself to her feet, something big and wet burst from her abdomen and onto the bedsheets below. For a moment she wavered, almost collapsed into herself, but then she moved, crawled towards me.
“Oh, how grandma missed you, little Andy.”
And then, as she touched me, as I felt a wet, squishy hand on my shoulder, despair overtook me. The world stopped existing at this point. My mind broke, and I clawed at the wall. I ripped at the wallpaper, dug into the plaster and brickwork below until my fingers were nothing but bloody stumps. My consciousness retreated and became an audience to my perils and could do nothing as I mutilated my body.
At first, the only sounds I heard was the scratching of my flesh and bones against the plaster, but then, the same wet gurgling started again. Grandma was singing an old nursery rhyme, the one she’d sang me when I couldn’t fall asleep. As I lay there, as I couldn’t go on anymore, she closed her rotten arms around my crippled, mutilated body.
I don’t know how long the embrace lasted. Every second felt like an eternity and her song seemed to go in endless repetition. All the while her body decomposed further and further as she held me.
I can’t tell you when or how the simulation ended. I only remembered struggling against the grip of other people. The details are nothing but a blur. There was security personal, an ambulance, and finally, I awoke in a hospital in Berlin.
A plump nurse was checking my vital signs and looked up in surprise when she saw I was awake. As she rushed from the room, everything felt different. It was my head, my brain.
As the memory of grandma’s rotting body came back to me, I screamed again. They gave me a heavy dosage of sedatives, and once I’d calmed down enough one of the doctors explained what had happened.
After the test of some electronic device had gone horribly wrong, they had brought here me. Apart from a few bruises, there was no visible external damage. Most of the injuries I’d suffered were related to the brain and the nervous system.
Shock washed over me and I tried to push myself up, but my hands and fingers didn’t react. I tried again, but I could barely move them, couldn’t even ball my hands into fists. As I stared at my almost useless appendages, tears streamed from my eyes.
The doctor stood there, an expression of misery visible on his face. He spoke, but I barely listened. Full recovery was out of the question, partial functionality might be possible, various approaches, therapy, and on and on he went. Somehow, though, I could tell that I was damaged beyond repair. I knew, and I cried.
The brain damage I’d sustained was more severe than originally thought. I’d trouble to recall certain memories and anything beyond simple math problems was impossible for me. I don’t know if I’d ever been smart before all this, but I knew I wasn’t anymore.
The most serious issue was the complete loss of my sense of smell. The doctors don’t know why, but I know the reason. I know that while the rotten corpse of my grandma held me, the smell must’ve been too much for my psyche. My brain must’ve cut off my sense of smell.
I stayed at the hospital for months. Once I could leave, people urged me to sue ImagiCom. I went to a lawyer, explained my situation, but it was not even a week before he got back to me. There wouldn’t be a case. ImagiCom was a subsidiary of a huge international conglomerate. They had all the money in the world to bury any case against them. Even worse though, they’d provided him with all the forms I’d signed and in them, I’d agreed to pretty much anything. Even the eventuality of lasting damage to my body. There was nothing that could be done.
It’s been more than a year since the entire thing happened, but I’ve only been able to write it down now. It was a long and arduous process with only the two fingers of my left hand who remained functional after all this.
But there’s one last thing I have to mention. The funniest, most fucked up thing about all this. The day I was released from the hospital and had gotten back home, I’d checked my bank account.
I laughed for hours when I saw the huge six-digit number of 100.000 Euros that had been transferred to my account the day the beta test ended. They’d fucking paid me. They’d paid me in full, just like they’d promised.
I have enough money now, enough to get rid of my debt. I’d gotten a second chance in life. Only now, as damaged as I was, I wouldn’t be able to make anything of it.