Here is Part 3 of a story I wrote based on a picture drawn for me by my good blogging friend, Sorina at Chosen Voice. You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here. It is a science fiction story based on a world where people live inside multiple virtual reality worlds in a program called Real World. They create the first one and then the computer creates iterations of it to go deeper in realism and intensity.
The Horse Bridge, Part 3
I slid off the horse’s back but still didn’t take my father’s outstretched hand. “What are you doing here?” I asked.
“I’m making lunch,” he said. He turned back to the fire. “Sit down; it’s almost ready. Are you hungry?”
I sat down, still stunned. An iterative world should not contain anything that I had not put into previous iterations, and I definitely had not put my father into any of them.
“Where are we?” I asked after a moment.
“This is Forked Lake,” he said. “I came canoeing here with your mother before you were born. It is one of my favorite places in the world.”
I stood up and tried to fly up and look at the lake from the air, but I fell back down. “What’s wrong with the physics here? I can’t fly.”
My father laughed, a simple joyful sound I had never heard from him before, at least not in decades. “Have you ever been able to, Superman? Come on; sit down before you step in the fire.
I sat down and tried to figure out where I was. If this was the 5th iteration, I wasn’t sure I liked it. I suddenly could not change anything and the physics was messed up. It was like I was not in a computer anymore, but actually out in UX somewhere. The thought made me panicky.
Of course, that was impossible. I had just left my father, senile and frail in a nursing home and UX had no places like this left. I had never seen so many plants in one place. The air smelled clean and fresh and I found myself drinking in huge breaths and feeling refreshed.
My father served up the lunch and handed me a plate. “How long have you been here?” I asked.
“Just an hour or so. I came down the lake from the north fork this morning and decided to stop for lunch. I’m going to go as far as the rapids tonight. Do you want to join me? Canoeing is more fun with two people.”
“I’ve never been canoeing before.”
He nodded, almost as if he was expecting that answer. “We never got the chance to go as a family, did we? It was one of my regrets in life. I’m sorry, Jeremy.”
I nodded, awkwardly. I didn’t know if this was just some projection of my subconscious or if, by some miracle, I was actually speaking to my father at that moment.
We ate lunch. The taste experience was amazing; much better than 4th iteration, but I was relieved to feel that infinitesimal lag between eating and tasting and the subtle difference between tasting with the tongue and tasting with the mind. I was still in a computer program and that quieted some of my worry.
My father asked again if I would go canoeing with him and this time I accepted. We packed up and launched the canoe. The white horse was nowhere to be found now and when I asked him about it, he did not remember seeing it.
“Do you remember the glass palace I built for you when you were younger?” he asked. We were on the lake, paddling leisurely along the shore.
“No, I don’t think so,” I said. “What was it?”
“It was something, alright. Your mother was not much of a creator; that was more me, and you too. You were always drawing pictures of castles and fantastic places. So, I made you a castle that was all glass. Well, plexi-glass really, but it went up three stories, with a tower and a secret hideout at the top. You loved playing in it. You called it your Light Tower.”
“I almost remember it, now that you mention it,” I said. “I must have been pretty small. I didn’t know you built it though. What happened to it?”
“The environmental meltdown made it so you couldn’t play outside anymore,” he said. “It got to be too hot in the Light Tower. After treating a few of your bad sunburns, we rigged you up a cave in the basement instead.”
As we paddled along and the sun began to sink down into the lake behind us, I learned more and more about my father—things I had never known before; things I couldn’t have known, about when I was a baby and before I was born. He told me of hiking trips he had taken with my mother, where they would go into the wilderness and not see another person for a week or more.
We camped by a set of roaring rapids. My father made a fire and cooked supper for us as the sun died and its light was resurrected as millions of glowing stars that pricked the blackness above us. The smell of the wood smoke, the taste of the food cooked over an open fire—it was the best experience I had ever had in a computer world or out of one.
I woke up the next morning to find myself lying on the flat plain with the cloudy purple sky above me. It was the dragon-world, where I had first entered the 5th iteration, before the white horse had appeared. I went back to my home base tower of Darktower. Among the messages waiting for me was one from the Tall Maple nursing home. It read:
We are sorry to inform you that your father, Mr. Mason Sherwood, has become quite sick and may be in the last stages of life. Please come to the hospital as soon as possible.
For the second time in 24 hours, I put up my status as “UXing” and left my apartment to drive to the nursing home.
(to be concluded tomorrow)