16 min read

The Play

Chapter 13: Day after day we wake up back in this place, with the NPC’s playing the same games and the same boats bobbing around on the river. But then sometimes a new thing appears–which is almost more frightening than the sameness.
The Play

by Odious


This is Chapter 13 of King of Spain, the serialized text art that is being channeled to me by the futuristic AI version of myself, Heir Max98. It's a horror story about four strangers in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, who discover that they are trapped in a simulation haunted by a strange entity they call, "The Curator". Chapter 13 is told to us by Dean, the self-proclaimed leader of "The Last". Dean finds a mysterious foil oval in his pocket, and tries to talk Casper out of trying to go back to The Roses, a journey from which he feels certain he will not return.

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Paid subscribers can read Chapter 1 here and Chapter 2 here , Chapter 3 here, Chapter 4 here, Chapter 5 here, Chapter 6 here , Chapter 7 here , Chapter 8 here, Chapter 9 here, Chapter 10 here , Chapter 11 here and Chapter 12, here.


Gm. It’s another bright day exactly like the ones that came before. At least that’s how we remember it. Whether those memories are real or not is another thing. We wake up beside the holographic river and read through the notes and put it together that we are captives. The feeling hits heavy and horrible: The Last once giving in to being The Last. The only real people who are left, at least as far as we can tell. There are tears and frantic questions. 

What happened? How did I get here? Did I die and this is hell?

Usually one of us remembers enough to hush the others, but not always, and the crying and praying to an old fashioned god most of never claimed to believe in becomes loud enough to make the NPC’s take notice. They grow disturbed by the break in the pattern and merge into a cloud of static that all at once is upon us, buzzing in our ears and eyes and getting sucked down our mouth when we open it to scream.

And then the lights go out, until the next day.

The best we can do is to try and stay calm hold on to what we know and add to it; to figure out something–no matter how small–and write it down in the hope that it will all add up to a way out of here. Day after day we wake up back in this place, with the NPC’s playing the same games and the same boats bobbing around on the river. But then sometimes a new thing appears–which is almost more frightening than the sameness. Like today–just now–I found a small foil disc inside the tightly folded square of notebook paper stuffed deep inside my pocket. Its presence and shininess was a shock. I knew about the notes, the secret ones I keep from the others for their own good, but there was no familiar feeling regarding the foil. It was an egg-shaped alien thing brimming with magical intent–either a clue or a trick or both–given to me, and me alone.  

I turned it over, careful not to look at it straight on as I placed it in the grass, too low for the others to see. Even though it wasn’t clear and only showed vague shapes, it was still reflective and therefore dangerous. That much I knew. There had been no mention of the object, not in the shared group notes or my own secret ones.  I tried to remember if I’d found it somewhere the night before–perhaps I didn’t have time to document its existence. But nothing came up. The disc looked like the kind of seal that’s on top of brand new jars of peanut butter or honey that has to be peeled off or punctured. It made me smile to think of it. The old, long lost world was filled with detailed safety measures, but here on the river, there were no protections. The four of us wake up and find food waiting in two half-flattened cardboard boxes with famous brand logos that look hand traced. The stenciled names seem to mock us: “Feeling Salty Chips” and “Ancient Thames Grains”–it says a little lower they were harvested directly from “The Terminal Breach”. Next to these are four juice boxes of equally suspect construction. (It’s been noted that their number has increased with the addition of each new member of The Last.) While it’s clear that whomever or whatever created these has a command of our language, the ingredients lists are littered with misspelled words, “mill it” and “bukweet” and “leche de aroos”, as if they didn’t care as much about the smaller print. (Or maybe they just think it’s funny, Nada said, rolling her eyes). Inside the food boxes are stale cookies and potato chips coated with a mysterious gritty substance that sticks in our teeth like sand and leaves a soapy aftertaste. The juice tastes like old stale tea. It’s always the same: I tell the others not to eat or drink, that it seems like some kind of bait. Like a fake worm on a hook. At first they nod their heads but they always get so hungry they can’t help themselves. And I’m no better. As their leader it’s my job to set an example, but by nighttime I’m starving and secretly cram what’s left in my mouth and guzzle the “juice”. I figure, what’s it matter? Time’s up yet again, one by one we’ll reboot (Eden still insists on calling it sleep, but it’s definitely not that) and when we wake up we’ll be stuck here. The regret hits me as soon as I swallow. I picture the alien substances moving through me, spying on my organs, sustaining and poisoning me at the same time.

This is the worst moment. Worse than waking up. I crawl a few feet away from the others and wait for Eden to come over and hold my heavy head. “I’m sorry,” I say, “I know I promised I’d get you out of here”. She tells me to hush while she strokes my hair. She says there’s no use in feeling this way. The guilt is just a way of making it about me. It doesn’t fix anything. “You’re right, Eden,” I say, impressed and comforted by her power, which by the end of the night is at its peak. She is herself, her wisdom fully remembered, and all at once the Deja Vu that has been waiting off to the side takes over. There is nothing real, only memories piled up, rising into the fake sky. I ask her to stay with me and she always says, yes, of course, and for many nights–hundreds, maybe even thousands–she did. But that was before Casper showed up. As soon as I close my eyes and pretend to reboot, she leaves me to go to him. The two of them stay up, sitting together and laughing about secret things. 

I lie alone in the grass and the last thing I hear before I give in and everything turns black is his high-pitched voice. I can’t make out the words, only the sound. Casper is also a new thing. The most recent member of The Last and the only human we’d seen in a long time. He appeared one day out of the blue and like the foil disc. His appearance is either an affirmation or a condemnation of everything I told the original members of The Last to do, I still don’t know which.

Being the leader means being a detective, battling not only the conditions of the case but the conditions of my mind, which the everlasting bland digitized thereness of our surroundings threatens to wipe clean of all distinction, all facts. At least once every day I see someone looking back at me mid-conversation with no idea of who I am. “It’s getting worse”, a past me who no longer exists has written and underlined in my secret notes. “We have to hurry!” But against this sea of forgetfulness, a few select things stand out, like rocks jutting from the briny blur. Each of us remembers having dreams about The Curator. These dreams go back to childhood. In theory they are nightmares, given the fearful aspects of his pale, ghost skin and blurred out eyes. He persists despite us not being able to remember anything else about the dreams. We can’t even remember our childhood aside from faint wisps. There is only his face appearing to us in our sleep in the same way it appeared to us just before we came here. A sudden flash, like lightning, which at once overtook and lit up everything else. I developed the theory that our minds were hacked and these images inserted into them. Perhaps his face is a placeholder–a kind of screen memory like images of owls reported in accounts of ET contact.  If this is true then what is being covered up? Something so dark and untenable that it must be vanquished deep into the unconscious? Perhaps he is something that’s been happening to us for years, or maybe even forever–a parasite that holds onto us life after life, just waiting for the right conditions to be brought through the dreamtime barrier. 

In my secret notes I lay it all out and then tell myself that I’ve decided not to talk to the others about this idea of our brains being hacked. It wasn’t good for morale. Nada was of particular concern. “What if I ran away and left her and it wasn’t even real?” she said, day after day, back in the beginning when I told her my theory. It made sense, of course. She missed her gf with an intensity that shattered her rational thought. How many times had I needed Eden to help me hold her back from trying to go back (Nada is not a small woman). She had seen The Curator’s insane face overlaid upon her beloved’s, and the fear and revulsion had been so great that it drove her from their apartment and brought her here. But if what she saw was just a hologram, a bit of data edited on to our experience, then there was no reason not to return.

“There were stories, OK? Ghost stories in the building. I let them get to me. That’s why I thought I saw that shit. I was sick, you know,” she said, guilt ridden and threatening self-violence. She begged us to let her go back. 

“It’s my fault. I was weakened by doubts and temporary energetic disorders symptomatic of true, raw creativity,” she said, or something to this effect.

Other times she just  curled up in a ball and said, “I can see it so clearly,” over and over, crying quietly and eventually rebooting.

It was when she smashed her head against the rocky ground hard enough to make blood run down her face that I made the executive decision to destroy the group notes that mentioned retrocausal images and the idea of our brains being hacked. From that moment, as far as the others were concerned, images of The Curator were 100 percent real. Within a couple of days it became the case as my theory was forgotten. Nada stopped freaking out, which was a relief. But there are still times when I can see her looking at me in a funny way, and I wonder about what she knows. Like the rest of us she used to write notes on her body, which was our original method for documentation before Casper showed up with clean white paper. A single pen was all we had. Nada liked to press down so hard she cut open her skin. She picked at the wounds, keeping them raw so that when they finally did heal, the raised pink scars still carried the message.

I wonder about words she’s written under her clothes where I can’t see, and what they might say.

After finding the disc I kept extra vigilant for anything else that was new or different. I felt my heart beating in my palms and in my neck, but this might be the way it always is. (If I ever make it back to real Brooklyn I’ll spend all my time noticing how different things are once you pay attention to them.) On the surface the morning was pleasant. Eden and Nada sat with their backs against one another as they kept watch, scanning the river and the lawn without focussing on any one thing for too long. They were looking for someone, anyone, who might be real. The NPC’s glided by on fixies and cuddled on blankets and played their soccer games. It all looked super normal. From a distance you couldn’t tell that their faces were blurry. Their movements were on a loop in sync with the trajectory of the fluffy white clouds gliding across the sky. Every few hours there was a barely perceptible jump as both reset. In the distance sometimes I thought I saw monuments and skyscrapers, but it was just a trick of the light.

Casper sat by himself. He was hunched over, the tip of his tongue stuck out of his mouth as he scribbled away. It was not a new thing to be writing–we all did it, using the allotment of paper that I had doled out–but instead of composing a new note he was making a copy of our existing ones. Our history. The only (official) record of what occurred, the pages were not merely a description of the way our time in this purgatory had passed–they were that passage itself. They went far beyond the efficacy of artifacts, labelled and placed in museums. I pored over them again and again. The notes were information, a thing we’d created together that was our history, from which we’d find a way to escape. I will admit that it pained me to see him smearing his greasy hands all over them. I was especially bothered by how he licked his finger each time before he touched the next piece of paper. 

His copying of the notes was a new thing, but unlike the appearance of the disc it was a thing that followed other new things. So in that way it was not truly disruptive, like something that came about unbidden and unexpected the way the egg shaped foil disc had shown up. Copying the notes was related to his decision to try and make it back across The Grid, to a bar that was his place. Each of us has one–a place where we spent most of our time, a spot that became haunted by The Curator (or maybe always was and we came to realize it as we fell into the scheme). For me it was The Golden Ratio, where I lived and helped run ceremonies. For Eden it was her tiny hyper sealed and super clean apartment that was the subject of the interior design art she posted online. For Nada it was the sprawling apartment she lived in with her girlfriend and her girlfriend’s husband, which included a room painted almost entirely blue, where the two of them hid from the world, and for Casper it was his favorite bar, The Roses, a place uncertain proportions, with excellent music and an outside yard that seemed to span centuries, to which our boy was determined to return. To his credit he knows how fucked this goal of his is: he’s making a judicious copy of our notes so he can read them and remember that we all exist should his journey wipe his mind clean.

(which it will all but certainly do) 

And I was here, the person who saved his life once, rising up to stop him and save it again.

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