Where the Show Goes On
After her favorite TV show gets cancelled mid-season, she makes weekly trips to an alternate universe where the show is still airing. There, in the comfort of her counterpart’s sofa, she watches new episodes, enthralled by the stunningly clever plot twists and ever-shifting dynamics between characters. Which she and her counterpart vehemently comment on during the commercial breaks. Except when the show is going through one of its occasional lulls. Then they chitchat about life when the ads run.
One evening, the episode is particularly slow, and when it cuts to the commercials, her counterpart gushes about a recent trip to the Sensoreum.
“What’s that?” she asks.
“Oh, a place that offers this huge range of sensory experiences,” her counterpart answers. “I’ll take you there. We can even go this weekend, if you don’t have plans. It’ll be fun.”
And it is. Utterly mind blowing as she wears a brain-stimulation cap and luxuriates in the goosebumps pricked by what feels like invisible feathers stroking her forearms. It’s just her in a cushy armchair having this “synthetic experience” in a white-walled booth, and it’s just perfect. A few minutes later, she’s melting [away] in the warm, gentle pressure of a phantasmal hug, then trembling with glee when her body seems to be enveloped by a tropical breeze that is only swaths of neurons firing.
“If you liked that, then you’ll love the Auditoreum and Simulacreum,” her counterpart says when they meet in the lobby afterwards.
Still atingle from the final sensation of floating in viscous warmth—“the honey bath”—she is thoroughly game for more.
The next Saturday, her counterpart takes her on a whirlwind tour of sensory venues. One plunges her into hyperreal soundscapes; another presents wondrous, innovative materials to touch and even taste in some cases; all enchant her with novelty and nuance.
Afterwards, she and her counterpart go out for a dinner of poké and green curry. Both exhilarate her palate and serve as the final encouragement necessary for her to declare that she will visit this world more often and enjoy the delights it offers. Her counterpart squeals boisterously at the promise of spending more time together.
But two days later, gamma ray bursts make all inter-world travel impossible. At least they don’t obliterate most terrestrial life, as these GRBs undoubtedly would if their path through interstellar space were a few hundred light years closer. Instead, the GRBs just streak the sky with green, make TV broadcasts fuzzy and keep her stuck in her own world until they are over. Which could be weeks from now. So in the meantime, what does she do about her newly ignited craving for sensory stimulation? Ignore it? Suppress it? Try to satiate it with the low-tech, comparatively paltry options available in her own world?
When the auroral sky is especially verdant one afternoon, she brews a pot of tea, for the caffeine that might help her think through this. Waiting for the leaves to steep, stares out the kitchen window. Beyond its dusty glass pane, the cityscape appears to lie beneath the emerald waters of a glacial lake—like she could open the window then glide by buildings and float over traffic. Thinking now of the air as water and herself a mermaid in it, she knows that her newfound intrigue with salient sensations is a piece (possibly a crucial one) to a puzzle that has long existed in her mind—that is an aspect of her mind, related to some fundamental question about herself or the world or both that’s been waiting just over her mental horizon, past all the thoughts she’s aware of. And now she’s closer to it, able to tell that this question and its answer have an importance—a significance that is not so much urgent as inevitable, that she will have to face, regardless of which worlds she does and doesn’t have access to.
Can I move toward… whatever this is? she wonders.
She pours the first cup of tea. Time to see how far this pot gets her.
Soramimi Hanarejima is the neuropunk author of Literary Devices for Coping and whose recent work appears in Lunch Ticket, The Nassau Review and The Gateway Review.