• Charlie Alcock

Reconfiguration


 
"Man In Clouds" | Anthony Afairo Nze

The leaf brushed her cheek, and she awoke. She reached to swipe it away, but it was already gone. She sat up in her sleeping bag. The wind was cool, and the ground was soft beneath her. Above her, beyond the circle of trees, was the whiteness.


She looked at the man sleeping beside her. His chest was rising and falling.


She prodded him on the shoulder, and he awoke too.


“Who are you today?” she said.

He sat up, rubbing his eyes. “I’m not sure.” He held his hands in front of his face and turned them over. “Someone with rougher skin, at least.”


“Your hair’s gone grey,” she said. “And your jaw’s sticking out.” He carried on examining his hands. She pushed him. “Come on. What about me?”

“Oh, sorry.” He looked her over. “You have green eyes now.”

“Is that it?”

“You know I’m no good at this.”

“There must be something.”

He peered closer at her. “I think your forehead might be higher. And your nose is different.”

“Well, what kind of different?”

“Just, I don’t know, different. I told you already, I’m no good at this.”

“Calm down, it’s fine. I’m sure we’ll find some way of looking at ourselves soon.”


They stood up and brushed the grass off their clothes. The scattered leaves around them rustled as they were blown by the wind. They rolled up their sleeping mats and packed them away inside their rucksacks, which they had used for pillows.

“Are you still OK with Jason?” she asked him.

“I think so,” he said. “I still feel like Jason. How’s Anna feeling for you?”

“I don’t think Anna fits me anymore.” She frowned. “I think maybe… Maria feels right.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. I like Maria.”

He stuck out his hand. “Well, I’m pleased to meet you, Maria.”

She shook it. “Pleased to meet you too, Jason.” She picked up her rucksack and slung it on her back. “We should probably get going.”

They left the clearing and went into the woods. Beyond the gaps in the trees the whiteness surrounded them. After walking for a while in silence Jason said, “I wish we knew what it was.”

“So do I.”

“It’s like the whole world got cut and pasted out. And how can we see? There’s no source of light.”


“Just don’t think about it,” Maria said. “You’ll go mad.”



 

At the edge of the woods there was a city. An expanse of grass spread out from the edge of the trees to where it met the spread of flat concrete at the city’s perimeter. They stopped at the border between the two to look up at the whiteness.


It was dimensionless. There was no telling whether it was spatially infinite or encased them utterly. They had never been close enough to find out.


The city was empty. They wandered through the high street looking at the shops. Some had recognisable names, like WHSmith and House of Fraser. Others instead of names had different coloured smudged blurs. Eventually they stopped outside a newsagent, where they looked at themselves in the window.

“I look alright,” said Jason.

“You were right about my nose,” said Maria. “It is different.”

“I told you.”

They went into the newsagent and filled their rucksacks with sandwiches, crisps, chocolate, and bottles of water. Jason went over to the paper stand. Among them were copies of the Times, the Guardian, the Independent and the Daily Mail. None of them had pictures on, only headlines and text. He picked up a copy of The Times and flicked through it. “Look at this,” he said, handing it to Maria.

She read over the front page. “I can’t understand any of it. It’s just gobbledygook.”

“It’s like that placeholder text you get on computers. Lorem ipsum.”

“Hmm.” She flicked to the back. “Oh, good. They still have the crossword. Hey, Jason, grab a pen from the counter for me.”

The wind had picked up again when they left the newsagent. They found a big square with a stone fountain in the middle, and sat at the edge of it while they ate. Jason dropped his crisp packet by mistake, and the wind caught it and carried it away into the air.


Maria wanted to explore, so they picked a random skyscraper to investigate. They went through the automatic doors into the foyer, which was a small room with metal walls that housed a single wooden table and a single wooden chair. At the other end of the room was a lift. “Let’s try that,” Maria said.


They went to the first floor, which turned out to be a large open plan office. There were desks lined up evenly in rows, with each one having a computer, a printer, a pot plant, a waste paper basket, and a wheelie chair. The walls were all metal, apart from the right-most side of the room, which was entirely taken up by a huge window that looked out onto the rest of the city.


They tried the second floor and it was exactly the same, as was the third, fourth, fifth and sixth floors. On the seventh floor they gave up, and Jason stood by the window looking at the view while Maria went around seeing if any of the computers would turn on. She joined him when she realised none of them had any wires, or plugs, or power buttons.

The city was below them. Nothing moved apart from the water in the fountain and the signs outside shop fronts being blown by the wind. The woods seemed to have vanished, and the city spread out as far as they could see. The edges of it seemed to dissolve into the featureless white mass. “I wonder how far it goes,” said Maria.

“It doesn’t look like it stops,” Jason said. He pointed at the skyscraper opposite theirs. “Look in there,” he said.

Maria peered at it. “It’s the same office. On every floor.”

They unpacked the rucksacks and made camp in one of the corners of the room. Maria did the crossword while Jason ate another sandwich.

Once they started getting tired they each got changed behind a desk. Afterwards, Jason came to Maria with his sleeve rolled up. “Take a look at this,” he said, pointing to his elbow. The skin had turned a dark shade of brown. “Might be more by tomorrow.”

They pulled down the blinds, turned the lights off and got into their sleeping bags. In the dark Jason said, “Have you remembered anything?”

Maria rolled over and closed her eyes. “No.”



 

She woke before Jason, and shuffled over in her sleeping bag to lean against one of the desks. Something unnerved her, and when she stood up she realised that it was the fact that beyond her movement, there were no sounds at all.

She rolled up the blinds and looked out at the city. There was no indication that anything was different since they’d gone to sleep. Not even the levels of light had changed. She peered at the building opposite again, half-expecting to see another Maria looking back at her, but all of the offices there were empty.

She focused in on her reflection, which unlike the city had certainly gone through some changes. Her eyes were now blue, her forehead was wider, and her shoulders had become more broad. She checked to see if Jason was still asleep before taking off her top.

She didn’t know what her body had originally looked like. In fact, the idea of her having an origin at all was strange to her. Trying to imagine it was like trying to calculate the volume of water in the sea, or the exact positions of the stars in the second after the Big Bang. She often looked at herself when Jason was asleep, tracing the contours of her ribs, or tensing the muscles in her arms and squeezing them. It was rare that she got the chance to see it in full.


As she was watching how her stomach changed when she breathed in, she heard Jason moving behind her. She quickly pulled her top back on. “Morning,” she said.


“Morning.” He stretched, and noticed the new colour of his arms. “Huh.” He took off his shirt and looked at the rest of him. His skin was now dark brown all over. “Well, it’s definitely more than the elbow, then.”

“You look good.”

"Thanks.”

After they had eaten, they packed up and went back out into the city. Maria shivered in the wind. They walked through more identical streets until they found one where a car was parked at the side of the road. They ran over to it and peered into the window. “The keys are still in the ignition,” Maria said. She pulled at the handle and the door swung open.

As they drove through the city the buildings on either side became more and more shapeless.


The doors and windows looked less like doors and windows and more like pictures of doors and windows, and eventually they were gone altogether, leaving featureless grey blocks that grew smaller and smaller until they were just piles of cubes. Soon the cubes were gone too, and it was only them, the car, the road, and the endless sea of white.

They kept driving. The road never stopped and never changed direction. When one of them became tired or bored of being at the wheel the other took over. Maria got out the newspaper and carried on with the crossword. “Any clues?” Jason said after a while.


“Um…” Maria peered at the puzzle. “Atmosphere of a place. 8 letters, ending with E.”

“Ambience.”

“Good one.” She wrote it down. “How did you know that?”

“I don’t know. It just came to me.”

Eventually they stopped the car, got out the sleeping bags and sat down on the road to eat. The whiteness extended in every direction. It could have been one mile away or hundreds. “What do you think it is?” said Maria.

“Maybe it’s like a canvas,” Jason said. “Or the backdrop of a theatre.”

Maria looked at the edge of the road. “We’ve never been so close to it before.”

Neither of them spoke. Maria straightened her leg. The tip of her shoe jutted over the side. She moved it forward a bit more.

Jason grabbed her ankle. “Don’t.”

“Come on, Jason.”

“We don’t know what will happen.”

“Then we’ll find out.”

“What if it’s dangerous?”

“What if it isn’t?”

Jason frowned, thinking. “Tell you what,” he said. He pulled off a lump of bread from his sandwich and gave it to Maria. “Throw that at it.”

Maria squeezed the bread into a ball and rolled it across the tarmac. It lost momentum just as it neared the edge and stopped. She reached over and nudged it with her foot. It rolled a bit more and landed on the whiteness, where it lay still.

Maria stood up. “Look,” she said. “It’s still there.” Before Jason could say anything she stepped off the road and onto the whiteness. It was solid under her feet. “Jason!” she said. “We can walk on it!” She took a few steps experimentally and found that it was the same wherever she went. “Jason, get over here” she said.

“I don’t know about this…”

She grabbed him by the wrist and pulled him onto it. “See? It’s fine.”

“Wow,” he said, looking down at his feet. One at a time, he lifted them up and put them back down again. “We’re walking on nothing.”

She tugged at his sleeve. “Come on,” she said. “Let’s see how far it goes.”

“Wait,” he said. “If we can go on it, then maybe that can too.” He pointed to the car. “We’ll be able to cover more distance if we drive.”

The car was able to go on it just as well as they could, so they drove it into the whiteness. The road receded until it was a faint black line on the horizon before disappearing out of sight.

Now the whiteness was everywhere. The car kept moving, but it didn’t feel like they were travelling any distance at all. For all they could tell they could have been travelling for minutes, hours, or days.

Ahead of them, in the distance, there gradually appeared a faint black line, stretching as far as they could see on either side. As it got bigger it became obvious that it was the road. They stopped the car and got out. “Is it the same one?” Jason said.

Maria bent down and picked up the lump of bread. “I think it is.”



 

They drove down the road for another short while before getting tired again. They tried sleeping outside, but it was too bright, so they tucked the sleeping bags into the car windows and lay down together in the back. Maria took his arms and wrapped them around her waist.

They were quiet for a while until Maria said “Do you remember the desert?”

“I do. That went on for ages.”

“And it led straight to that ocean. That was a weird transition.”

“Oh, god, the ocean. I got so sick of the smell of seawater. And that rickety old boat.”

“You got so pissed off at that boat. When we finally hit land you kept threatening to smash it up. I had to drag you away so you didn’t do violence to it.”

“I hated that fucking boat so much.”

Maria laughed. She stroked the back of Jason’s hand. “Jason?” she said. “Do you think… that we were anywhere before this?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, do you think that we came from somewhere? That we weren’t always here?”

“Well, we don’t remember being anywhere else, do we?”

“I know, but…” She sighed. “Don’t some things seem familiar to you? Like those shops in the city. Don’t feel like we’ve seen them somewhere before?”

“Not really, no. We can’t have done. It’s not possible.”

“I’m sorry,” Maria said. “I know it’s silly. It’s just been on my mind recently.”

“That’s OK,” said Jason. “I think about it sometimes too.” He kissed the back of her shoulder. “But I’m glad to be here now. With you.”

Maria turned around on the seat so she was facing him. “I am too.” She kissed him, took his hand, and guided it between her legs.



 

After they woke up and put their clothes back on, they carried on driving down the road. For a long time, there was no sign of anything, and they wondered about driving back into the whiteness and seeing if it took them anywhere new this time. Then a small dot appeared by the side of the road in the distance and quickly started getting bigger. “Slow down or we’ll miss it,” Jason said.

Maria eased up on the accelerator and started braking as they got closer. They pulled up in front of a two-storey house. It was white with occasional patches of brick where the paint was flaking off. All of the curtains were drawn.

They got out the car and stood staring at it. “Do you want to go in?” he said.

“Of course I do.”

They went into the driveway, the gravel crunching under their feet. The bushes in the front garden were swaying lightly in the wind. The front door was a dark shade of blue and the number on it said 73. Maria went up to it and lifted up the knocker. “Why are you doing that?” said Jason.

“It’s polite.”

“But it’ll be empty.”

“Well, just in case it isn’t, I don’t want to go barging into somebody’s house.”

She rapped three times. The sounds were like thunderbolts in the deafening silence. There was no response.

“Now what?” said Jason.

Maria frowned, and pushed on the door. It swung open without resistance. “Come on,” she said.

Inside was a hallway with cream-coloured wallpaper and a staircase with dark green carpet. There was a row of shoes lined up on a mat, the nearest of which was a pair of small blue trainers with a cartoon duck on the front. On the wall by the door was a plaque hung on a nail by some string that read ‘Live, Laugh, Love’.

They went into the living room, where there were toys scattered all over the floor. On the mantelpiece were several framed photographs of a blond-haired boy. In one he was on a swing, in another in the living room wearing school uniform, and in the centre one he was blowing out the candles on an 8th birthday cake. This one Maria picked it up. She looked at the boy and then to Jason. “Do you think –”

“We can’t assume anything.”


They split up to search the house. Jason stayed downstairs and Maria went to the top floor, going through each of the rooms in turn. The first was a bathroom with stickers of octopuses on the tiles and a waterproof alphabet book. The second was a bedroom with a double bed and a dresser that had more photos of the boy on in.

The third was another bedroom. The bed in it was smaller than the other one and had a blue and yellow striped duvet. There was a wardrobe, a chest of drawers, and a desk with a chemistry set strewn across it. Bits of Lego cluttered the floor.


Maria went over to the desk, avoiding the Lego. She picked up the different parts of the chemistry set, the test tubes, beakers and measuring sticks, the shape of them feeling like they suited her hand. She opened the desk drawer to that it was full of stationery and exercise books, which were filled with handwritten equations. She sat on the bed and ran her hand over the frame, finding a dent in the wood that made her touch the side of her head.


Images rose up in her mind. Under the bed there would be two plastic boxes, one for toy weapons and the other for all of the Lego. In the wardrobe there would be a school uniform consisting of a white polo shirt, a green blazer with a tie, and black trousers. Somewhere tucked away in the bookcase would be a light yellow piece of card with two red handprints on and a calendar glued underneath.

There were footsteps on the stairs and Jason appeared in the doorway. “I found this newspaper on the kitchen table. It’s got another crossword in if you –” He stopped. “What’s wrong?” he said. “Why are you crying?”

“I don’t know,” Maria said, wiping her eyes. “I don’t know.”



 

They sat in the car outside the house. “I knew that place,” Maria said.

“Are you sure?” said Jason.

She nodded. “I could picture every detail of that room. It was like I’d lived in it.”

“But that can’t happen,” he said. “That’s ridiculous.”

“Well, it did. I knew it like the back of my hand.”

Jason huffed. “Even if you did know it,” he said. “All of the photos – it was a boy.”

“So?” said Maria. “Our bodies are always changing, aren’t they?”

“I guess,” said Jason. He turned on the acceleration. “Let’s just keep going and see what turns up next.”



 

What turned up next was another house. This one was taller and thinner, with a black tiled roof and a concrete driveway with two brick walls either side. One of the upstairs windows was broken and a circle of plaster had fallen off the outside to reveal the dirty brickwork underneath. They got out and stood in front of it. The wind was cold.

“I don’t want to go in,” said Jason.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. I’ll wait in the car.” He tucked his hands into his jacket pockets and walked back down the driveway.

Maria tried the front door but it was locked. She tried to look in through the ground floor windows but it was too dim inside to make anything out. She stepped back and folded her arms. The wind whistled through the broken window.

She climbed up onto the brick wall and leant on the house for balance. If she was careful, she could just about lean forwards to look into the room with the broken window without falling over.

It looked cramped. There was only just enough space for a half-made bed with a fraying mattress, and a wardrobe taking up the whole of the right side of the room. A bare lightbulb hung down from the ceiling and in the high corners was what looked like damp.

On the walls by the bed were crayon drawings of cowboys, police cars and dragons. There were stacks of superhero comics under the bed, and toy cars scattered over the floor.


Above the head of the bed, one corner hanging down, was a poster of a galaxy.



 

She got back in the car and shut the door. “I believe you,” Jason said. “About knowing that place.”

“What do you think it means, then?” said Maria.

“I don’t know,” said Jason. His voice was shaking. “Maybe everything – all the places we’ve been – they’re all part of wherever we were – whoever we were –”

“Before.”

“Yes.”

Maria thought for a moment. “That could be why some things we read made sense and others were just gobbledygook. Selective memory.”

Jason slammed his hand on the steering wheel. “But none of this brings us any closer to actually knowing anything. If we were somewhere before, then where are we now? How did we get here? What is this place?”

“There’s a solution to that,” Maria said. Jason looked at her. “We keep driving.”



 

There were more things by the side of the road as they went on. They passed a set of swings, a row of school desks with a whiteboard, a dirty yellow skip with cigarette butts on the ground behind, a public toilet cubicle with a fogged-up mirror, and a dorm room with physics textbooks on the shelves and empty condom wrappers on the floor. Each time they passed something, one of them would get a twinge of memory.


They stopped at a stone bridge that crossed over the road that they both half-felt a pull towards, and climbed on it and looked out at the road disappearing off into the distance. “Do you think it’ll go on much further?” said Maria.

“I don't know,” said Jason. “It feels like we’re nearing something. But I don’t know what it could be.”

“Some kind of answer, maybe.”

“Or some kind of ending.”

Maria looked at where the road faded into the whiteness. She shivered in the wind.


 

Soon the objects stopped. The road grew thinner, and the car wouldn’t fit any more, so they took their stuff out and left it. They walked down the slowly diminishing road until it tapered to a point and stopped. Jason stood at the end of it while Maria carried on walking onto the whiteness. “Where are you going?” he said. “There’s nothing here.”

“There has to be something,” she said.

“Look at it.” He threw out his arm towards the whiteness. “This is it. We’ve reached the end. There’s nothing else left.”

“What else are we going to do?” Maria said. “Turn back?”

“We could do that,” said Jason. “Find the car, drive back to the city, live a life there. There’s food and water. We could survive.”

“Or we could carry on.”

“That’s not carrying on,” he said, pointing to the whiteness. “That’s running on a hamster wheel, forever.”

“You don’t know that.”

“And where would you go, anyway? There’s no directions out there. How would you decide where you went?”

The wind picked up. Maria smiled and pointed upwards. “That’s how.”



 

The wind took them far away from the road, and the more they walked, the more it grew in intensity. What began as a light breeze soon felt like a gale, and it was a struggle to stay upright. It wasn’t cold or warm, but it was strong.

Jason was getting tired of all this walking, and annoyed at Maria for carrying on like this, when he bumped into something. “Ow,” he said, rubbing his nose.

“What happened?” Maria said.

“I felt like I bumped into a wall,” he said. They were having to shout over the wind.

“I can’t see anything,” Maria said. It was true, the white was there and as opaque as ever.

“But there’s something there.”

“Hold on,” she said. She put out her hand and edged forward. “Yes,” she said, as she stopped. “I can feel something solid.” She felt around, and stepped back with a strange look on her face. “I think this is it,” she said.

“What?” said Jason.

“The end of it.”

The two of them stood looking at the invisible wall. They’d both thought that this place, whatever it was, went on forever. But evidently it didn’t.

Jason turned to Maria. “What do we do?” he said.

“I don’t know,” Maria said.

“We’ll have to turn back,” he said. Maria said nothing.

She turned to him. “This can’t be right,” she said. “There has to be something beyond this.”

“Why?” he said. “Nothing goes on forever.”

“But this can’t be it!” She was shouting at the wall now. “There has to be more! There has to!”

“Why can’t you just be happy?” He was shouting too. “Why do you always have to push forward?”

“Why do you always have to hold me back?” she snapped.

“Because you won’t ever be satisfied!” He was shaking now. “No matter how far you go, no matter what you find, it will never be enough. You’ll always need more, and in the end it’ll consume you!”

“Oh, yeah?” She advanced towards him, and he instinctively retreated. “All you want is to be surrounded by your four walls on all sides. You depend on them. You want to be insulated, cushioned, stuffed head to toe with cotton. You’re an animal that loves its cage. Maybe I’ll never be satisfied, but at least I won’t stagnate.” She brought up her foot and kicked the base of the wall.

Instead of meeting with solid mass, as she’d expected, it flapped like plastic sheeting hung over the frame of a door. All of the wind blew through it, as if finding an exit after being stuck in a confined space, and the atmosphere was still again. She glanced at Jason, who was just as bemused as her.

Frowning, she nudged it with her foot. It flapped again, revealing dark blue underneath it, appearing as a line on the whiteness.

“Don’t do it,” said Jason.

Maria stared at him, and knelt at the foot of the wall.

“Don’t do it,” said Jason. “Please.”

“I have to see,” said Maria.

“Don’t.”

“You should come,” she said, lightly but with an undertone of desperate pleading.

“I don’t want to.”

“Don’t you want to know?”

“I don’t care.”

Maria sighed. “Look,” she said, “I’ll have a look, and once I know what’s there I’ll come back and get you. Alright?”

He knew this wouldn’t happen, but there was nothing he could do. “Fine,” he said.

“OK,” she said. She got into a crawling position, and edged towards the wall. When she was at it, she lifted up and put her head underneath. “Oh, my god!” she said.

“What is it?”

“I can’t. You have to see for yourself.”

“Well, come out and tell me and then we can both see it.”

She crawled forwards. Now she was halfway through. “Jason, this is amazing,” she said. “There’s no way I can possibly describe it. Oh my god, what is that?!”

“Maria,” he called, “I really want to know what you’re looking at,”

“Then come in. Woah,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like that before in my life. I didn’t even know that was possible!”

She was three-quarters of the way through now. Only her legs, still bent down, were visible to him. “Is there nothing you can tell me?” he said. “Nothing at all?”

“Well, it’s –” She edged forwards, and the curtain-wall fell to her shins. “It’s so – so – bright!”

Her feet slipped through. The curtain dropped. She was gone.

“Maria?” He listened, hoping for anything, any sound at all. “Maria, are you there? What’s it like?”

He waited for a long time, clasping his hands together, rubbing the base of his thumb. He bit his lip, and frowned at the place where she’d been. He called her name a few times more, and when nothing happened he sat cross-legged on the floor to wait for her to come back.



 

With nothing to lean against, it became painful for him to stay sat up. He remembered the car with its comfortable seats, and found himself gazing in the direction they’d come from. At the same time, he didn’t want to leave in case Maria came back. He deliberated on this for a long time, and decided that if she did come back, it would be easy for her to find him. If he was going to wait, he may as well make himself comfortable. He stood up, stretching out his arms until they regained feeling. With one look back, and a silent apology to Maria, he left in the direction they’d come.

He found the road again, and not long after that, the car. He got in and drove until he reached their gallery of memories. As he passed the bridge, the dorm room, the school desks, and finally the two houses, he felt no connection to any of them. They were just things.

He spotted the lump of bread, which was where they’d left it, and soon after that small grey cubes began appearing at either side of the road. They grew into piles, and seemed to fuse together to create big grey blocks, which also piled on top of each other. The blocks became the size of skyscrapers, on which appeared pictures of doors and windows. They became real doors and windows, and the blocks became real skyscrapers, and he was once again in the city.

He drove through the empty streets without any kind of destination in mind. It was barely possible to tell the difference between any of them. They numbed his mind as he swerved around corners, picking this way or that without any consideration for where they might lead him.

In the end, he pulled up outside an office block, which he stared up at for a few moments before getting out the car. The automatic doors opened for him, and he was in a lobby with a polished oak floor. To his left was an unattended reception desk, and to his right was a waiting area, with cushioned chairs, circular tables, and a wall that was a window, looking out into the street. Ahead was the door to a lift with a button to call it.

He went over and pressed the ‘up’ button. The doors opened straight away, sliding outwards to reveal a lift with mirrored sides and a plain metal floor and ceiling. He went inside. There was a single unmarked white button on the wall, so he pressed it.

The doors slid closed and the lift ascended with only a quiet machine-like hum to indicate it was moving. After a minute or so it stopped, and with a ‘ping’ the doors opened again.

He had expected to see another office, but instead there was a reasonably sized room, with a single window just above his head height. The walls were a plain stone-grey, and on the wall to his left was what looked like a hatch of some kind. Halfway down the same wall was a good-sized plasma screen TV, on top of a white stand with built-in shelves. Opposite the TV was a dark blue sofa, with big and comfortable-looking white cushions. A remote lay on one of its arms.

He went to pick it up and turned on the TV. On it was some kind of streaming service, showing all kinds of TV shows. He cycled through the options, and recognised some of the titles, but for the most part they were completely new to him. Frowning, he clicked on the ‘View All’ tab to see the full list.

There were thousands. He was open-mouthed as he scrolled through them, the titles blurring into each other. It must have been every TV show ever made.

Now curious, he went over to the hatch and pulled it out of the wall. On the edge were four buttons: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, and Snacks. He went over to the sofa, and found that if you pulled the base forward, it turned into a bed.

With great satisfaction, he made himself comfortable and picked a show at random. He watched the whole thing, from start to finish, eating and sleeping in between. He picked another, and did the same thing.

Once he had watched all of them, it felt as if no time had passed at all. He turned the television off and stood up, stretching his arms and legs. A pinging noise came from behind him, and he turned to find that a new streaming service had appeared on the TV. In it was every film ever made, and he reclaimed his space on the sofa and watched all of them too.

After this, he stood up and stretched his arms and legs, thinking it was about time he did something else, when a creaking noise came from behind him. A door had opened, and through it was a library. This contained all the books ever written, and had comfortable chairs with reading lights in every section. Jason went through everything there, and once he reached the other side, found another door.

This one led to a gallery that contained every artwork ever made, and the door after that led to a concert hall in which he listened to every piece of music. In a small room with a beanbag, a TV, and every games console ever made, he played every video game. There was a door in that room too, and as he played through the games, he kept glancing at it, as if behind it was a gigantic mouth that would swallow him whole.



 

All too soon, he’d played through the games, and there was nothing left for him to do except go through the door.

It opened onto the whiteness again. The space was empty except for someone standing several metres away from him. It was Maria.

He went up to her. She had none of the life or spirit he’d expect to find from her. Instead, she stared into nothing, her eyes fixed at a point just over his shoulder. Her skin was grey, and her hands dangled by her sides like two weights hanging from a string.

“Are you Maria?” he said.

“No.” It spoke not with her voice, but that of a woman in middle-age, tonelessly giving information.

“But you look like her.”