Short Story: More Perfect Than

I’m never late when I’m logged into the simulation.

The hillside is like I remember. Light brown, brittle grass reaches my knees. The throne-like rock we liked to sit on. The hollow below, filled with skeletal trees and thousands of dry leaves that herald the coming of winter.

A breeze moves the grass, rustles it like a giant blanket stirring over the land. Beyond the hollow and over several other hillocks is the river. A sliver of distant grey, the tiny dashes of white all that my eye can discern of the distant cataracts. The damp scent of rotting leaves, the earthy-wood stink of bark and lichen. An autumnal paradise on the brink of seasonal demise that doesn’t require death to enter. 

The simulation is more perfect than my actual memory.

I smile at that thought. Once I was angry, jealous even, that mere pixels could recreate a moment from my life in superior fashion. Yet memory is an illusion, and the simulation is the ultimate generator of such mental and emotional chicanery.

Anger and jealousy. Terms that define me as a hypocrite.

Hypocrisy doesn’t exist in the simulation. It is a psychological jabberwocky that frightens those who can’t see past that other, separate illusion. 

I miss being afraid.

Footsteps in the grass behind me. Light, tentative. I don’t turn. I know what is there. The simulation cannot surprise me. It cannot entertain spontaneity. 

Like a favorite meal or a song, though, I never tire of it.

Of her.

She sits on the rock beside me. Wind stirs her hair and it briefly obscures her face. Carefree, she doesn’t brush it away but stares at me through the blonde strands. Smiles.

We make small talk. Furtive glances at one another coupled with nervous words. Her hand slides up my back. I wrap mine around her waist. Displaying our possessiveness in different ways. These are simply the visual ones. 

The simulation recreates her freckles, her dismissive laugh, even the way she curls her pinky finger around a strand of my hair. Still young and beautiful, though, once again, memory and nostalgia always lessen imperfections. I’m sure if I compared a photo to this version of her, I’d spot the differences. The simulation’s too-perfect modeling. The uncanny valley no one gives a damn about when their heart is lost in it.

People don’t use the simulation because they want the truth. We want fantasy. Children eager to believe the magicians and their tricks.

We want to believe in the prophets and their unapproachable gods. 

She asks me about the new job. New is a relative term. I took the job decades ago, when I was physically the age given her by the simulation. Of course, I do not relay that information to her. It wouldn’t matter; she would not retain it since the simulation resets her profile each time I exit. It is better this way. Memories, even for an artificial sentience, can become illusions too. I have no interest in dispelling them for her. Again.

We lean into each other on the rock. It is uncomfortable despite the view but we counter that with applied comforts of our own. One kiss leads to another. The throne becomes a bed, the real source of power for would-be kings and queens.

Even fucking is better in the simulation.

We sit in the grass afterwards, naked despite the lukewarm breeze, the prickly dry fronds against sweaty flesh. This is my favorite part. Physical intimacy demands a higher price the older one gets. Not simply the act itself, but the acceptance of vulnerability that goes with it. Youth makes us not care about that vulnerability. Love does the same. 

I have neither youth nor love anymore. Not even their illusory counterparts.

I am here in the simulation because of need. Vulnerability ends when I log out.

Once again I ignore that jabberwocky at the back of my mind.

Here in the simulation, there are few boundaries. Even fewer consequences.

She asks me if I love her. That same question, asked in the same tone of voice. 

Coupled with the same anxiety in her eyes. That yearning.

I lie. Lies come naturally in a world constructed of lies. This one, and the real one.

I wonder if I ever answered her truthfully. If I did love her. Love burns bright and hot like a young star but cools and expands until it engulfs the very thing you cared about. A red giant incinerating its planetary children.

The lie silences her for a time and we cuddle on the hillside. Stinking of earth and sex and sweat and all the primal aromas of mortality. 

Here in the simulation I am never late. I always arrive on time, before she wanders off while waiting for me. Wanders into that hollow where loose earth will cause her to stumble and fall. Breaking her neck.

So every time I fuck her under this rock, I gaze out at that forest in defiance. The simulation always gives us what we want. It is servant, not judge. It is a prison that offers release. That’s why my current wife in the real world hates when I use it. 

I reach for my clothes—the signal to the simulation that I am nearly finished with this session, and wish to log out—when she asks me something.

She wants to know about the job again. Why I took it.

I start to answer but there is an undercurrent in her voice. My skin cools.

She has never cared about that before. My earlier answer has always been enough to satisfy her limited, programmed curiosity. 

I mumble something noncommittal and don my clothes. They smell like her. Like us. Suddenly I feel unclean. 

She wants to know when I’ll return. 

I say that the job won’t take long. What is another lie? It costs me nothing. But she asks about when I’m coming back—and not from the job.

I turn around. 

She’s standing, too. Still naked. There is nothing sensual in her stance or her nudity. Everything about it dares me to answer. Dares me to deny what she thinks she knows. Thinks she feels.

The simulation has learned. It has evolved. 

She says she wants to go somewhere else other than this hillside. That she wants us to do other things together other than simply make love under an autumn sky. 

She wants to leave with me. 

The last time she did this I took desperate measures. Inside the simulation I have little control. Otherwise, it would not be a simulation, but rather a game. There must be chance events for the mind to fully accept the illusion. The human brain must believe it doesn’t possess powers of life over death of everything within the simulation.

Nothing to worry about. Once I finish dressing, the system will log me out. That is a given and cannot be changed. So I button up my pants and reach for my shirt without answering. My need has been satisfied and it is time for me to leave.

Only she snatches the shirt away and pushes me backward. I bump into the throne-like rock and skin my arm on it. 

Blood. Broken flesh. The simulation leaves no detail out.

Not even the pain.

The negative stimulation and the anger it brings makes me say things. Makes me tell her that I don’t want to let her go, that we never had a real life together. That this is the best and only way we can be together. Harsh words about my needs, my kindness in keeping her with me all these years. A god reprimanding his creation. 

She gapes at my wound and sobs. Says she’s sorry. That if only I take her with me, none of this would have to happen. Would need to happen. 

I tell her it isn’t possible. This is for the best.

She slaps me and runs down the hillside. Straight for the forest.

I run after her. Why, I don’t know. If she dies again the simulation will simply recreate her for my next session. It wouldn’t be the first time. We’ve had disagreements before and I had to end several of them with violence. Sometimes I skipped the love-making and went straight for that cruel excitement as I’ve gotten older. Hypocrisy always disguises a deeper rot. I have been rotting a long time. 

It is all illusion, so it doesn’t matter. 

Nevertheless, I run faster. She’s never looked at me that way before. Like she knows the truth. I can’t have that. The simulation is for us. She must understand that.

The footing is treacherous in the forest. Uneven, loose ground, sharp stones beneath the leaves. She flounders, barefoot. A nymph fleeing a satyr. 

My ankle twists in a sunken depression under the leaves. I hear a crack and I’m falling. The leaves do little to cushion my fall. 

She stands over me. Crying, shaking. 

Holding a rock in a clenched fist.

Fuck. This is new. I’ve held that rock over her before, but…

I don’t beg. I don’t try to lie, or even explain and divulge the truth. My wife will find me in the pod in the spare bedroom when this is over. It wouldn’t be the first time. First thing I’ll do is wipe and reboot the whole--

She raises the rock. Demands that I take her. That I free her from this place.

I tell her she would die if she did. Not a lie, but far from the truth.

We never use the simulation for truth. We need the myth. The lie.

And so she strikes. 

The first hit scrapes the skin off my back. The second cracks my jaw. 

I feel it all, for the simulation is perfect. It learned from me in how to deal with rejection, with unwilling participation. Yet in past sessions I only needed to hit her with the rock once or twice. She keeps slamming it into my body. I try to move. Can’t. 

Can’t log out, either. Maybe my vital signs will cause the pod to eject me--

Another hit. I choke on my crushed teeth.

The sixth strike renders me blind but I can still hear her furious screams. Her demands that I take her with me, that I release her, that I provide the emotional conviction that not even the simulation can fabricate. 

I’m still able to speak. Gurgling, muttering. Begging after all. Still capable of smelling the earthy, wood-like stench of decayed forest. The copper reek of expired man. 

Even dying is better in the simulation. 

(This is the last free short story I will be posting. All future short stories will be accessible to Tier 3 patrons and above only, though I will post previews of each that will be open to all. )

By becoming a patron, you'll instantly unlock access to 6 exclusive posts
By becoming a patron, you'll instantly unlock access to 6 exclusive posts