A Story by Tim Butcher

Where is the line drawn between reality and fantasy?


A sigh.

What does a sigh represent?

All that it does for us is to exhale a breath in the biological sense.

But what about mentally?

It helps us let out stress, even though it has no relation to such a thing.

This such action and sense of purpose for most of us represents the placebo effect, the phenomenon where if something is believed to be true or bound to happen within one’s body, it will most likely happen. A famous example of this is to take a medication that you believe will work to cure sickness, and while the pill has no special effect, one’s body becomes cured. That is the phenomenon known as the placebo effect. What does this have to do with us right here, right now? Everything. Because if I were to tell you that this event also allows us to deceive ourselves to the point where it can almost be diagnosed as insanity about the reality of things. For the more unstable person, a breakup of a relationship can result in denial of such an event occurring. For most others, it could be something simple such as denying yourself the belief that a homework assignment due the next day isn’t as dire or imminently important as the next match or event in the next big game, or quest, etc. Once again, what does this have to do with us? Everything, because as we venture through this story, it will be important to know that not all is as it seems. But be careful not to overthink it, or else it will turn around on its end…

Be wary, of the placebo effect.

I’m not much of a heavy sleeper, but in times like this, I sometimes wish I was. Why? Because a certain alarm clock is going off right next to me.

Beep. Beep. Beep. Be-

I turned off the alarm clock with a heavy moan after doing so, my eyes still shut, and pulled up my bed covers even more than they were already, not wishing to see the light of day, knowing full well however that I needed to get up for school. However, I eventually got up, as the cruel reality settles in of the consequences if I didn’t get up. Silently cursing my past self for staying up so late playing that one video game, I was still nonetheless relieved I had finished my homework, and stumbled downstairs with half closed sleepy eyes. The hallway was dimly lit, which didn’t help my staying up, but still, I somehow managed to keep walking forward, all the way to the dining room. Once there, I sleepily scanned the room to see no one was there, and just sighed to myself, wondering why my sister or mother wasn’t around. Of course, if I got up as late as I did, it was natural they were on their way to school (for my mom to drop off my sister), and my father was probably already at work.

Rubbing the sleep out of my eyes, I went over to the kitchen, which was a subsection of the dining room as a whole, and made myself a toast with some cereal in case it wasn’t enough, and sat down at the table, my eyes still more or less heavy, though I was able to keep them open with much less effort as before. I stared at my cereal as I chewed my toast with butter put on it just before shoving it into my face, wondering why I didn’t get milk for the cereal. Shaking off that question, I wasn’t hungry for cereal, so I went ahead and went upstairs to put on some real clothes, just a generic solid green shirt and black shorts, and went to the living room, which ultimately led out of the house. At the entryway, I put on my shoes, blue and white, with a lot of dirt smeared onto the sides, most likely from my lazy self cutting across the lawn and corners of sidewalks to save myself time. I walked out of the door, only to be met face to face with a blazing sun.

Was it really this late? Crap…

I walked over to the bus stop, carefully making minute adjustments to my outfit, not really for the sake of looking good, but rather just to give myself something to do. After fixing everything over a dozen times, checking myself over no doubt for a hundred times, I looked back and forth on the straight road, wondering where the buses were.

After a minute or so of wondering, I pulled a hand into a fist and slammed it gently onto the other hand’s palm, “Ah, that’s right, I’m late… Of course the buses wouldn’t be running to pick up late students…”

After this realization, I sighed and walked along on the sidewalk, musing over the pleasant weather of the day, guessing to myself whether it was 8 in the morning or 9, maybe 10. Did it really matter? I was late anyways, so might as well take my sweet time getting to the school, which was only 10 minutes or so at most to get to from my home. I looked around the neighborhood, seeing the houses as they went by, all unique in the sense that they had different subtle designs and colors. For example, one house was bluish in overtone, and the house over was bluish as well, but was two stories tall; and the house next to that one was primarily red-ish and two stories tall, these kinds of subtleties. Of course, given it was the middle of the week in the middle of the day, there was no people strewn about, whether they might have been on a stroll or heading out to work. It didn’t matter what they could have been doing, as they were not around at all.

So why is it that these are my thoughts so early in the morning?

I eventually got to the school, and went in. No one was in the hallways, which was expected as class had long since started. I half jogged, half walked over to my classroom, which was almost on the far side of the school from where the entrance was at. After reaching the door, I sighed while heaving a few short breaths.

“Wow… So it looks like you’re the late one today, eh?”

I felt my face blush slightly at the remark, “Hey! Knock it off! It’s not my fault the alarm clock didn’t wake me up in time!”

The teacher was always like this, as curt as possible to agitate my rudeness, which for some reason made her pleased, but I never minded it too much, since I was too busy being annoyed.

“Ugh, whatever…” I said as I stomped over to my desk.

The class went on without much a hitch, and the rest of the day seemed to whizz by almost like time distorted. I walked home as per usual with my friends who lived not too far away from me.

“So you gonna be gaming tonight?” One of them said to me.

“Ah, no, I really need to go to sleep earlier…”

Another friend came up to me and slapped me on my back, “Hey, at least try out this new game!”

“A new game? That’s unusual to hear from you, the one who always sticks to one game for a long time!”

“Hehe,” he gave a goofy smile, but then continued on with a more serious tone, “But seriously, you need to try this game out. It’s wicked and will destroy your heart.”

“Hah? Don’t you know I have a heart of steel and an iron will?”

At this, the other friend that hadn’t spoken up until now spoke up from behind me, “You will lose your heart. Trust me, I’ve known you the longest, and I know what gets you the most. You won’t regret it.”

I thought about it for a few moments and sighed with resignation, “Is it really worth it?”

They all nodded to me, at this I sighed once more, and they cheered.

“So… what is the game called?”

“Oh, it’s free online. It’s called ‘Dream’.”

“‘Dream’? That sounds really short and somehow cliché…”

“You’re going to play it. Even if it means we have to come and strap you down.”

I raised up my hands, signaling my complete obedience, “Hey, don’t worry, I’ll play it. Alright?”

Later that night, I ended up actually playing the game. I went online to find it, and sure enough, as the guys said, it was free. It wasn’t even just free. It was free, and it almost seemed like as soon as you find it, it automatically takes you to the game files, and you immediately started downloading. Or maybe that was just the speed of my internet going ridiculously fast, and my unusually hasty pace at getting the game, rather than inspecting first before proceeding. Whatever the case, I started it, and the first thing I saw was a bleach white room, with a heart monitor and a bed. It was obvious that the scene was at a hospital, and that it was a room in it.

“Hmph, I expected somewhat better quality than 8-bit…”

I couldn’t do anything except look around the room, not much to do other than just apparently waiting for the doctor to come in, which he did. He walked in and came over to look over the bed, and for some reason or another, I didn’t see the person that was in the bed, under covers, until the doctor took up the covers, to reveal another 8-bit character in the bed, with no particular details of his face.

The doctor looked down and spoke with a tinge of pity in his voice, “A shame he couldn’t live…”

At this, the doctor walked away, and the heart monitor went flatlined after the doctor left the room.

“Well, isn’t this just a peachy introduction…” I muttered to myself at this point.

A sigh. What does a sigh represent? All that it does for us is to exhale a breath in the biological sense.

I looked strangely at the new subtitles that appeared on my monitor, “Whoa, we’re getting pretty philosophical aren’t we?”

I clicked forward to continue, and more subtitles popped up, replacing the ones that had been there previously.

But what about mentally? It helps us let out stress, even though it has no relation to such a thing.

I looked at these subtitles and thought to myself, “It’s probably better for me to play this when I’m not so tired, if it’s going to do something like this…”

I minimized the window the game was on and turned off the monitor, leaving the game as it was before I lurched myself up and over onto my bed.

I turned around from my face plant into the bed and turned around to face the ceiling, which was now pitch black except from the light filtering through the shades that came from the streetlights not too far away, as my mental imagery served me correctly. I closed my eyes and let my conscious waver…

Day 2843, attempt to realize reality failed.

A computer voice emanated through my mind, and I realized very quickly this was most likely a dream, though not likely a construct of my own mind. I opened my eyes, only to see a completely different view from the ceiling I fell asleep under. It was not just dark, it was pitch black, with a new found sensation that I was suspended by something.

Engage MAP for patient, estimated chance of realization in the next 1000 days: 0.00001%.

Another voice, deep and self evidently that of a man, came up after the computer voice ended its announcement, “As long as it isn’t 0%, we can keep on trying… The poor soul.”

A voice that seemed to belong to a woman voiced out after he finished, “I’m sure this will all work out eventually, Robert. We just have to keep trying.”

What’s going on…? What the hell am I dreaming about?

“I know… But still, even so, I feel like we may not be getting anywhere...  What’s the point of MAP if there’s no real progress?”

“Robert, you know as well as I do that MAP is meant to ensure his mind doesn’t overload with déjà vu of seeing the same thing over and over again… Even now, he’s already started to realize on an unconscious level that there isn’t much to observe…”

“Okay, that may be true. But why is it that we must have to attempt to do this operation of him realizing reality as it is through a game?”

“It’s the best way to indirectly feed him the reality without directly telling him, and who knows what could happen if we did that, Robert…”

Somehow, I could feel that the man had agreed to the woman through a nod. And with that, I plunged into slumber without much to remember…

Beep. Beep. Beep. Be-

The End

© 2015 Tim Butcher

Author's Note

Tim Butcher
I did this all in one go, so if there's any mistakes, let me know with great details into it.
I got this idea from a game called Soma that recently came out. I won't say much, but the kind of perspective it has, I decided to use for this story as well.

What do you think happened? What was it that REALLY actually happened? Let me know! I look forward to seeing what you guys come up with for what I had intended for this story (and yes, I actually do have the whole story in my head figured out, unlike some other stories I've tried writing!)

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Added on October 19, 2015
Last Updated on October 19, 2015
Tags: Plot twist, Philosophy, Mindfuck, Mystery


Tim Butcher
Tim Butcher


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