It is easy for the lost and the outcasts to find solace in technology. When you are lonely, you grab hold of anything that grants you comfort and eases your pain. Robert was such a person. He spent his days on forums and comment sections seeking out validation in his existence. He has never met his closest friends, they exist only as words on a screen.
You can find the worst and best of humanity on the web. However, people like Robert rarely seek out the best. They spiral down dark corners looking at things worse than themselves. That is where he met John. Robert did not know much about John other than that he was a cynical person who enjoyed talking about the downfall of society and failings of mankind. He showed Robert images. Pictures of people in pain, or dying. Pictures of monks lighting themselves on fire, of little girls trapped in a flood. They were images meant to elicit a certain type of emotion, Despair.
Robert and John spoke to each other for nearly a month since the first meeting. Robert became fast friends with John and started to adopt many of his nihilistic views. As John had planned, Robert truly grew tired of his life and humanity around him and like a predator stalking prey, John carefully waited for the moment to strike.
“What if you could escape this reality?” John asked.
“That be nice,” Robert agreed.
“All you have to do is agree and I can show you something,” John replied.
“What are you talking about? Whatever show me,” Robert finished.
Rob immediately felt a dizzying sensation as the lights went out around him. For a moment the world went black, then his eyes adjusted to the dark. He was still sitting at his keyboard, but the screen had no power along with the computer. He tried switching the computer back on but it was useless, the desk lamp next to him also failed to turn on. He stumbled around his dark house till he found the front door. He looked outside to find that every house around him was much the same. No lights, no power. The streetlights were out as well. “A blackout?” he thought to himself. However, he saw no one else. It was cold, and the world seemed to glow lightly with the light of the moon, but he could see no moon or stars.
Walking outside, Rob could not escape the feeling of everything being slightly wrong. Walking to his car he noticed the color seemed slightly off and the body felt cheap. Like a poor imitation of what it should be. The sidewalk, street lamps, and even the windows of the houses and cars all seemed like cheap imitations of the real thing. Like a Chinese knockoff of a whole town. This surreal world only grew odder with the lack of the wind and any noise outside his own footsteps.
Rob walked the streets of this imitation world for several hours or at least what felt like hours as the passage of time seemed impossible to tell. It wasn’t till he saw a light at the end of an empty road did he have a direction. At first, it was simply a glow in the distance but as he approached he could make out the shape of a monitor. In the middle of the road sat a computer on a desk. The only thing with any power for miles.
This world seemed like a dream. Slight imperfections giving away hints that this was not his reality. None more so than the glowing computer screen that sat on a desk in front of him. On the screen was only a basic text program with a line of text blinking, waiting for a response.
“Hello, again Robert”. Rob instantly knew it was John.
“Where am I?!” Rob reached down to the keyboard and typed.
“You are still home,” John immediately typed back. “However, I suppose that is not what you wanted to hear. Your body is home, your mind is in another reality just like you asked,” John continued. “As long as you are not using your body, I will take it in the meantime. Enjoy the peace Robert,” John finished. As the last words appeared on the screen the power went out. The glow was replaced with darkness. Robert desperately tried to type back and turn on the computer but it was useless.
Once again Rob was left alone in this dark world. He had no sense of time and was unsure how long he had been there. The only thing he could think to do was walk. He tried opening doors to surrounding buildings but they were sealed shut like they were never meant to be opened. Windows only showed near empty insides with furniture that looked fit for a model house. He kept walking, never feeling tired or hungry as surely hours must have passed. It was as he walked that he found a small gray building fitted with a red door that looked completely out of place in this world. On the door, a white piece of paper with the words “Keep Out” in black ink sat.
Robert ignored the warning without any hesitation and opened the door revealing a completely dark room. The horrible smell of rot and death reached out. Still, without hesitation, Rob stepped into the room and as his eyes adjusted he could see what was making the smell. The building was one impossibly large room, like some sort of warehouse, with concrete floors. Stacked in the center were dead bodies all in deep stages of decomposition. Skin hung from them like leather.
“Ah, ah, ah, Robert, you should learn to read signs. No need to look on at your predecessors,” a voice rang in Robert’s head. The smell began to overpower Rob causing him to flee. As he walked away from the building the red door slammed shut behind him.
Unable to work up the nerve to try the door again Rob walked away. He found himself wandering endlessly in a daze. He no longer recognized any of the scenery. Architecture and age seem to change rapidly. Buildings in styles years apart sat next to each other. Yet, it all seemed fake. Like props on a movie set, they could pass for the real thing from afar but fail on close inspection. He could not escape the feeling of being watched as he moved along.
Continuing his journey Robert noticed other red doors like the one he saw before. They did not have any signs on them, but he still hesitated to touch them. His courage from before had faded. However, as time passed and any other options failed to reveal themselves he decided to try. The closest door was attached to an old stone building that seems fit for a long-lived city like New York or Philadelphia. Slowly opening the door he saw a deep darkness in what appeared to be a glass door holding it back, but it was not glass but a perfect slice of water. With a touch, Rob could feel water drip onto his skin, but the larger mass refused to fall out the door. With a deep breath, he smelled the nostalgic scent of the sea. Daring not to enter, Robert moved on looking for another door.
Another red door sat attached to a wooden cabin. A building completely out of place sitting between two brick buildings. Slowly opening it, Rob shielded his eyes as bright sunlight spilled out. Inside the door, a vast savanna spread out before him. A dry golden grass seemed to go on for miles only broken by the occasional small tree. He had ever only seen such a thing on TV and pictures of Africa. Looking at the gray world behind him and the golden one before him Robert stepped through the door.
The first thing to hit Rob was the oppressive heat. The change was drastic from the cold world behind him. Looking back, the door he stepped through seemed to sit attached to nothing. The world was much different than the one before. If the world before was a dream, this one was more a vivid memory. A sense of odd nostalgia entered Robert's mind. Walking forward into the endless planes the red door behind him vanished. Despite the heat, he still did not feel thirst, hunger or exhaustion. He was fascinated by the vastness of the world before him. Besides the vegetation, not another living thing seemed to exist. That was why when he noticed the grass moving in front of him his eyes focused immediately. Time seemed to slow as a female lion burst out of the grass and sprinted at him at full speed. Rob only had time enough to turn away before it reached him and pounced on him. Hugging and grappling on to him with sharp claws. He hit the ground with a hard thud as his vision went black. A few moments later Robert was able to open his eyes once more. However, he was unable to move. He did not feel any pain but could hear the sounds of footsteps as the lion moved into his view. It looked into his eyes before opening its jaws and reaching down to bite him in the throat.
He awoke once more on the cold streets of the grey world before, gasping for breath. A dark voice laughed in Rob’s head once more.
“Curiosity can be a dangerous thing, Robert, it killed the cat after all,” John said with a laugh. “Am about done on this side, you will be home soon enough. You were a good sport so perhaps I’ll sate your curiosity a bit.” The red door before him opened again. This time, a different scene lay before him. A vast village made of sandstone sitting under a bright sun. “Am old Robert, very old.” The door closed again as John spoke, only to open again. This time to a small computer server room, electronics in black boxes lined the wall while a single computer screen and keyboard sat on a desk at the end. “However, even old things can adapt to the age, Robert.”
“It’s time now, I can’t stay here for long,” the voice of John spoke for the last time, “The human body simply can’t handle it.” The world around Rob started to fade, his vision blurred, it turned black with a familiar dizzying sensation. When light entered his eyes once more he found himself in a cold wooded area. Rob tried to center himself but he did not have the energy to stand. He was desperately thirsty, his whole body felt dry. When he finally glanced at his arms he tried to scream but his dry throat could not get a sound out. He could see his bones with leathery skin hanging off of them. The last of his energy left him as he collapsed completely to the grass floor. His eyes quickly dried to the point he could no longer move them, not a tear could escape. His body was already a long dead corpse that would never move again.