The apartment was a sunlight soup. Chunks of static flash were held in the liquid suspense of a pastel broth of curtain and carpet. The toaster and kettle kicked horseshoes onto the ceiling. Cutlery spat gold teeth onto the table. The vacuum tube silvered off the TV’s slumbering face. All was agleam and Geoff tasted it with a startled yawn as he blinked awake. This wasn’t the prison cell he was used to.
He sat up and scrutinized the room, bewildered. Nothing was as it should be. He glanced along his arm to his torso and legs: he was wearing a zoot suit, by the looks of it. Complete with wingtips on his feet and cuffs at his wrists. A black fedora capped a coat rack in the corner.
‘What the fkuff?’ He stumbled to the window and winced through the light. The sun was bleach, saturating the street behind the window. Buildings made severe by the lancing sun cut a mock world out of shadow. Lengthened people passed over these dark angles under which they neared obscurity. It represented too much to Geoff to realize that something was amiss. That the sun had no heat occurred less to him than his freedom.
‘Fkuff me, I’m.. Huh? I can’t fkuffing swear? FKarrrrrrFF!’ Backing up from the window, his throat under his fingers, he reeled in search of a mirror. ‘I’m free and I can’t find the words to express it!’ He thought wildly. ‘Where’s the bathroom?’ His throat was smooth and without stubble, which, Geoff thought, was odd for a guy with a beard. After trying the only other doorknob in the room, which turned out to be the unlockable front door, he opened the one to the bathroom. Glancing around it, he saw it had no mirror. Nor a toilet.
He licked his lips and ran his hands over his face. No hair. He touched his head, a clipped and lacquered hairstyle touched him back. Maybe he could see his reflection off the TV. He tried, and though it gave a fisheye of everything else in the room, there was nothing of him. Even when he tried blocking all the light reaching it, it was if he simply was not there.
‘Holy sthit. What the fkuff? Am… am I finally a vampire?’ He hit the power on the TV, and sidled backwards to lean against the couch. A man’s head pushed onto the picture.
‘Hi Geoff!’ He greeted him genially.
‘Hi dude’s head.’ Geoff spluttered.
‘Geoff, you must be wondering what the heck is happening? We’ve been told that some of your predecessors had a rather uncomfortable time adjusting. So we started preparing live orientation vid-feeds. Any questions so far?’
‘Er. Other than, well, I’m sure you.. Never mind. Just keep going.’
‘Sure thing Geoff. My name is Garry. I do PR for InCORPSoration. Our company recently bought your rights from the Beaumont Correctional Institution. And we’re happy to say, you’re broadcasting live!’
‘Erm. Yeah. I’m.. still a bit murky on the details there Garry.’
‘Well, as I’m sure you’ve heard, even in your..’ Garry checked something just below the screen ‘.. seven year absence. Huh. The last one in solitary..’ and looking cheerfully back into the room, ‘Well, maybe you wouldn’t know then! We’ve developed a hit new KeyHole show wherein inmates and other legal non-entities are the stars! You’re going to serve the rest of your sentence under the public eye! The fans can either tap your feed direct, as in cerevision, or, and we’re particularly proud of this merchandizing adjunct, even read about your exploits in the Booked. A copy of yours is on the kitchen table over there. Not digital, like the consumers’ versions of course.’
Geoff looked over to where an officious black book stood upright on the table. Somehow, like mall music except in Geoff’s head, the fanfare from Also Sprach Zarathustra lit up for a few moments.
‘Garry, was that you guys in my head? That trumpet stiht?’
‘Yes Geoff. That was us. From time to time, we’ll integrate sound effects and whatnot, another feature we’re very pleased about. Perhaps one day even special effects, but that’s currently being pondered by the board members. Though, between us, they’re keener to promote the product placement right now. I must say Geoff, we like what we’re seeing here. You’re taking this all remarkably well.’
‘Thanks. Now, where is this place, if not Beaumont? And if this is at all related, where am I?’
‘HA. You know what? I’d almost forgotten. Yes, where are you Geoff? Well, according to the marketing demographic we’re trying to attract, we can’t allow certain, let’s just call them unsavory elements, to enter the shows. Needless to say ‘needless to say’, there were just some things we couldn’t control. So we created a virtual town for all you scallywags, and plugged you right on in. Your usual psychomotor interface was rerouted directly into our software. So the physics are piqued to our fancy: No need to defecate, swear or even have sexual relations. Fall four stories, and you’ll be fine.. You do know what that means Geoff?’
‘No. It means: IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO DIE HERE!’
‘Well, Garry, then I gotta ask, how is it possible to live?’
‘I’ll take that as a literal question. Your real body, your “biody” as we all call it at the CORPS to avoid confusion, has been suspended. It is being cared for by highly qualified technicians in the same building I’m orienting you from right now! Like I mentioned, your sensations have all been rerouted to here! And our viewers, your viewers, Geoff, get to see this instead! Pretty wild, huh?’
‘The no sex/drugs/swearing thing is on a sliding scale, based on your behaviour. This virtual world may seem heavenly to you, but you are still technically incarcerated. So, we gave you a few stipulations. As you progress in your life here, you’ll enter a new rating category, whereby you can start swearing again, drinking again and so on. The one thing everyone can do from day one is fight. And it’s strongly recommended. In fact, the better you are at that, the more likely you will be to enter a new viewing time, and thus, a new rating category. If I’ve confused you, the rules are in the appendix of your Booked. Now, anything you have to add before I go?’
‘Yeah Garry. I have a question. Why can’t I see myself, like, you know, reflected off anything.’
‘Reflected in anything. Simple Geoff. We entered litigations with a few of our more sensitive viewers. They found it easier not to associate with you, found it humanizing or something, so our legal department deemed it fit to squash that altogether. Gosh, I should go now. Nice to meet you Geoff. Now, go off and enjoy your liberty!’ And with a sucking motion, the TV winked off.
Geoff put his head back against the couch seat in exhausted disbelief.
‘Fkuff you Garry.’