This story was first serialized in 31 daily parts during January 2021 via the @MoveablePress and @InternetofWords Twitter feeds [9am and 5pm GMT respectively.] It is now reproduced in a complete form, a number of small edits and corrections made to improve narrative flow and maintain correct continuity.
I produce fiction bi-weekly on Ko-Fi: this includes flash fiction (250 words) which is being put together to form a long-form narrative, plus a bi-weekly full novel presented in episodic format.
If you are reading this then I am probably lost forever, trapped in a desire of my own creation, an end that has destroyed the strongest attempts to remain independent and conscious. However, in the hope that maybe one lowly soul might yet be saved, I feel compelled to explain… I have only myself to blame. This was not a decision forced upon me; anything but, I willingly entered this secondary space thinking that I could leave at any time. The truth, which has only now become fully apparent, is that this was the whole point of the exercise and I failed.
When this is written, there will be one last, desperate attempt to escape my self-imposed prison, using what has finally been learnt about the illusion of truth through philosophy and quantum physics. Perhaps, even now, the restraints of UltraReality can be broken. I have to try. Your product name is suspect, overall graphic quality is terrible, and I now have no idea what is accurate and what isn’t in my existence… so in that regard, the sales pitch succeeded. I wanted something exciting in a mundane lifestyle: this delivers that promise, at a price…
What was never realized, until it was too late, was the frightening cost of getting what I wished for…but you will know this already. You were the smart ones who were never taken in by the sales pitch.
I must go back to the day when a social media mutual raved about the idea.
It wasn’t a game, they told me, not some new social network that would be busy for a while and then fade away. It was your daily life, just made more stylish, more exciting and interesting. A simple web interface, then a headset. Nothing too fancy, and it wouldn’t break the bank. Looking at online reviews, alarm bells should have rung. In amongst the glowing were worryingly disjointed comments: at least one in five complaining of unexpected consequences, or citing an inability to contact the company for refunds or support. One review simply read: ‘DON’T’
Amazingly, that was the one that sold me. How bad could thirty seconds a day with a tiny headset be, when everything else was optional and online? It wasn’t as if I was tethered to this thing… except, of course, I was, and only when this finally registered was it far too late… The first few weeks, let it be said, were amazing. 30 seconds before work, watching animals or plants, answering simple arithmetic questions, not really grasping what had been let into my brain. The first time a day was missed I felt physically sick and only then did it register.
My mental faculties had improved, undoubtedly quicker and more capable. I slept incredibly well, but without remembering any of my dreams… and when I tried, subconscious literally made my head hurt. Memories of distant past, life’s important events literally beginning to vanish… Functioning as a human being had been shifted simply to the moment. Without one day’s exposure, what I thought was a tidy home was exposed as a lie: no cleaning for a month, running out of clothes and, for the previous week, I’d not even gone to work, despite believing otherwise.
The need to return to perfection was overwhelming, and so I did, one final time, but instead of watching bunnies playing and completing my sums, eyes were forced to defocus. Looking past what was now grasped as a wrapper of normalcy, I saw the truth. I’d allowed myself to be hypnotized. Behind the imagery was disturbing: not light, or some stupid swirling kaleidoscope, but a darkness, punctuated with bursts of seductive, purple throb. Once it was recognized, the pictures and sums literally vanished. I had been swallowed by an unknown, was unable to focus away…
It took nearly three hours that morning before it was possible to force the headset off, cutting wires and thoroughly destroying the electronics. It didn’t matter how sick I felt afterwards, or how long it would take to wean myself from the thrall of darkness. This would be done. Then came awareness, no idea when I last ate or drank. Putting hand to my head, the box that lay broken by my side still remained over my eyes. Reality was not as my senses presented, but deep inside only one, intractable truth remained. The box must be removed, then destroyed.
Multiple times, a hypnotized brain tried to deceive: it became apparent I’d never slept, or been to work, or indeed moved from the spot I’d occupied since first putting on my headset… focus shifted instead onto what was felt, smelt or dimly perceived outside my visual prison. If I’d been here as long as short-term memory suggested, I’d be starving, sitting in my own waste. There’d be muscle cramps, always occurring when sitting too long opposite a screen: as each of the long term recollections of those things returned, awareness came of a subtle shift.
A fight was taking place, inside my head itself: those throbs became more insistent, attempting to deny what I now knew was the truth. This was a deception, pure and simple and then, blissfully, there was nothing. This time my headset came off for real, was destroyed for good. It had been twenty-six minutes since I’d started my first session: the broken, electronic remains were returned to their packaging, my account with the company summarily cancelled. Feeling too disorientated to work, I phoned in sick, then went to bed.
I should never have slept.
That sounds stupid, reading it now. I had to sleep, could not survive without it but I wonder what might have happened if I’d had gone first and left an online review, even complained to the manufacturers when they existed… because now, they don’t.
The organisation has vanished.
However hard I search online, nothing exists. They’re not a registered company, and according to official records, never were. Crucially their domain is still registered, but am not going there again, because when I did, the purple throb was waiting… but this time as a warning. Reading these Terms and Conditions I signed, a paper version of which was sent with the headset, true horror of what I willingly accepted is clear. It begins with the concept of UltraReality, combining experimental quantum physics, subconscious manipulation and visual suggestion.
I have, in effect, entered a parallel Universe, accessed by the device, within which the company may or may not exist. If it doesn’t, then the headset has done exactly as was intended, proving the possibility that thoughts create portals to subconscious dimensions in space/time. If, after using the device both company and current reality remained accessible, then the experiment would be deemed a failure and a full refund given… except I never finished the full hour immersion specified. The required connection to UltraReality never took place, and now…
All I can assume is that somehow, my own self-awareness was responsible for opening a one-way portal to a reality that was previously only considered as theoretical. I can see no way back without the headset and frankly, right now am too frightened to try. My options are limited.
Is this UltraReality, or somewhere else? Wherever this is, I have no need to eat or drink because, I do not now exist in human form. Interaction can only occur in this room, in this house. Outside I become largely non-existent, passing through matter like a ghost…so, am I dead? I thought that for a while it might be the case, or maybe I was still stuck behind my computer with the headset on… but I cannot even feel myself. Hands might exist, but here are simply projections.
I am left with two options, to leave home forever, or succumb to purple throb.
The former is impossible, I cannot get further than the front gate without being pole-axed by anxiety and fear, so it is to the Throb that this life will be sacrificed. Perhaps it will mean travel to another splinter Universe where I can reconnect with someone or anything at all. If you are reading this now: don’t succumb to UltraReality. Don’t buy their products or use the headset. Your life is brilliant without something else claiming there is a better alternative. Don’t fall for the advertising.
Stop using the Internet as a substitute for true reality.
Update Report: 23AR : MRI 27B/6
Having duplicated the circumstances detailed by the last message from this PC, we have been unable to establish a stable connection between realities. However, this is the most success achieved thus far replicating similar sub-cranial reactions.
Having been informed of a third customer who has vanished under similar circumstances in the last 72 hours, we now suggest removing all units from the central processing mind until the veracity of this new instance can be confirmed.
It may be time to increase our organic remit.