The Neon Demon – One-Shot (from a true story)

It is a room and at the same time it is a desert.
What is color, which I used to believe to know, before I lay eyes upon the buzzing triangle of static looming over me? The apparatus whines a single endless note right through my skull.

This is a world of neon, of coward plastic and free lightning, that has been tamed to tame my eyes in turn.

There is only on direction and is forward – I pull on the lever that is my anchor to the real world and I feel it tug at the magnetic lines of color that make up this new space, this spectral conundrum of fractal shades, endlessly buzzing.

I can also press buttons to end the simulation and get people to help me out, but I am confident I am not going to need them at all. What is the worse that can happen?

Iam ssurrounded by colors.

They are my entire world as I explore it, slowly sitting down in the circle. Where is the circle? It’s in the world-outside-the-world. Does it matter?
I lay down and I feel the pressure of muscle upon muscle, of fabric crinkling against skin. I am not a ray of beamed light, I am an intruder and an observer. I stepped in this world not knowing where I can get out or even if it does matter. Does it?

Even if I decided that it did, I feel like it is too late, far too late for this kind of thoughts. I am walking now, towards the shining triangle – and it is getting larger and larger, closer perhaps.

It surely does look close to my eyes that have not been made t distinguish real and pretend. My awe does not care. My exilarathion does neither and if possible it is eager to cast it all away.

With a gasp I pierce through the neon placenta of the new experience – I am now inside the pyramid, glistening with all that is electric, wriggling patches of coiled static in white and green and yellow scratch against each other, corralled waves. I feel my mouth open up in marvel and then tease in a smile. It is so simple. Should I be awed by boring geometric shapes? The apparatus has showed me landscapes and people and planets and vistas – why should I care about geometry?

Why should it care about me? But I feel like it perceives me, strander in a stranded land, and it does not like me, but still – it can be tolerant, if not accepting. It is more than enough for me. I let out a satisfied chuckle from the inside of the, sizzling triangle. It wraps around me, coarse through by the leashed flashed of neon.

But lo! There is something else ahead: a new figure, a new shape buzzes through the electric mist. Electric fisherman on the boiling ocean, I pull ahead, my line is this button that is the center of my world. Little by little, the image changes and the new shape, is pulled in turn.

A quiet gasp as the border between the two looms nearer. Where am I going to end up? Where is this going to end if at all?
I lean my head over the border and through the lines of color. I see them turn and tilt – between them a black space and then a new room. A new beast or the same one of old? A pyramid this time, white and rustling with a skitter of black and white splotches.

At this point I know where to go – I am a fool, but I believe I have it all figured out.

I of course do not. Beyond the pyramid is a cube, which I walk confidently towards. You see walking is like pulling on a line, is like inviting your fish to a banquet, is like asking a star if it would kindly shine brighter just for you just for tonight. And the star does agree in this world. It seeps closer, the shimmering cube of rainbow light. I open my arms to let it wave just through and past me-

And I am rejected.

The wall doesn’t proceed further.

I pull back, then a little bit to the right and then forward.

I go through this time – a mapping error, perhaps? I think, I know. Or maybe I was indeed too confident, fallen into hubris.

The cube does not make answer – it knows, but it does not want to reply and I suspect it does have its very clear reasons. Stunned, I lean to the right, where I see no more lines hinting at more solids waiting for me. Instead, I can freely pass through the wall of light and beyond there is only darkness – endless like the blind must see.

I stop.
It is an old shiver that hooks into me. A shiver and a fear as old as time itself: what is going to happen if I keep going? I tell myself that I should not, because there are other people eager to enter the same subspace and set their eyes on the colors and forms and shapes and their neon majesty. But I know it is a cop out, a feverish and a liar’s ratty excuse.
I do not proceed because I am afraid that if I do I will not be able to find my way home.

Towards the colors that tolerate me. They do. They do not love me but they accept my presence.

What can the darkness tolerate? Feel? Accept or hate? It swallow all, blank Tartarus and it would not even perceive my screams as I feel deeper and deeper inside it, forever.

The colors are my anchor.

I pull back in feeble panic.

This is not real. I am inside a exhibition room and I am supposed to experiennce the majesty of colors and feel awe and comfort perhaps. The music is soothing still.

The void looks back with its unhinged maw.

So, you do understand that from that moment forward, when I step back in, there are stakes.

If I get lost, I can fall back into the void.

I do not want to. Oh please don’t let me fall into that endless maw.

I keep pulling my lifeline until it’s next knot and it’s next knot is the five-shaped pentagram of swirling light. By now I know this is not all that there is. That this world holds a threat.

I want this to end quick. They told me there is an exit. There is a place where I can jump through and end this simulation. I can’t seem to find it.

Did they put this in on purpose? This mortal trap? When they programmed this virtual space did they keep in mind that someone would try to leave it? That someone would explore past bounds?

Maybe I was just unlucky. Maybe I just hit a missing path node and I can’t really noclip through any other walls.

But I do not test out that theory.

More than anything, I do not want tp fall out into the void.

Oh, there are other people who will want to try it. Other people who will want to get themselves lost in this maze – and they will not get out of the path, they will stay true and be unaware, o blessed creatures, of the consequences.

The last room is a kaleidoscopic trap of colors and shapes in a criss-cross geometric pattern of exagons, a honeycomb riddled with second sight.
Where is the exit? Why I alone cannot find it?
People must be waiting for their turn.
I can call for help, I can turn this off. It would mean admitting I couldn’t find it. I couldn’t find the exit.
I go back. Isn’t there another room? No. Six, five, four: this is the progression there is no cheat code out of here where is the exit?
Where is the final door? Is there? Why did they not put it there for me? I couldn’t-

I don’t want to go out into the void.

I reach for the VR goggles and I pull them out.

The art exhibition steward who greeted me at the start (and told me I could just push the buttons to cal for help!) smiles as he takes the apparatus back.
“Did you find the exit?”
“No,” I reply. “I reached the final room but there was no exit door.”
“Ah,” he grins, reassuringly, “that was the final room. You would have found it sooner or later.”
I know he’s lying.

Author’s notes: this was a fun one to write. I went to an art exhibition and I had an amazing experience, but the VR piece had an effect on me I wanted to share. I hope you liked it.


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