Addicted to Life
by Marek Vit
It was late afternoon and the sun was slowly creeping towards the horizon. Phil, wearing a dark suit and a pair of polished black shoes, entered a small phone booth. He dialed his wife's number and waited for her to answer.
"Hello?" a voice in the receiver said.
"Hey, it's me, honey. Guess what! I've finished the work here and I'm coming home. I should be there in about three hours."
"But that's great, Phil!" his wife exclaimed. "We didn't expect you to return so soon. The kids'll be happy!"
"How are they?"
"Okay, I guess. We all miss you."
"Don't worry, hon. I'll be home in a couple of hours. See ya."
"See you. Be careful on the road. I love you," she said.
"I love you," he answered and hang up. As he was leaving the tiny space of the phone booth, he suddenly realized how much he really meant the last sentence. He was the happiest man on the Earth. He had a lovely wife and two great kids. He could hardly wait to see them all again.
He got into his car and soon he was on his way to his family. He didn't know, however, that he would never get there.
It all happened very fast. The car skidded. The car slipped off the road. The car hit a rock. Phil felt terrible pain. He felt his strength leave him. Then, everything was dark. A tunnel. And a bright light at its end. It was getting closer... The light was flashing...
The message was ridiculous -- the most ridiculous thing Phil had ever seen. The message read:
Suddenly, he felt that something was being removed from his head. How come he still had a head? And light appeared. It was bright and blinding. When his sight returned he found himself lying on a weird sofa, and a man standing above him with what appeared to be a strange helmet in his hand.
"Next time, dude," the man said with a smile on his lips. "But you were doing great."
"What?" Phil asked, deeply puzzled.
The man must have noticed his puzzled expression. "Why are you staring at me like that? Hey, wake up! The game is over! What's wrong with you, Steve?"
Why was he calling him Steve? Phil was unable to produce a sound. "I'm Phil," he managed, finally. This obviously amused the man.
He laughed. "Maybe in the game. Steve, don't you recognize me?" A bit of concern now appeared in the man's expression. Phil shook his head. "I'm Bill. I'm your friend, Steve. Remember?" No matter how Phil tried, he could not place this man anywhere in his memory.
"Where am I?" Phil asked. He looked around, but he didn't recognize the room. There were no windows, no decorations. There was just this... thing... where he was lying and a big screen with a flashing "GAME OVER" sign. He sat up and for a moment had to fight dizziness. He examined the place where he had been lying. It was a weird plastic casket. He was sure he had never seen any of this in his life.
"At the game center," Bill replied with worried expression. "Don't you remember?" Again, Phill shook his head. "I guess I should take you to a medic," he said, and helped Phil stand up.
Again, a wave of dizziness surged through Phil's body. "Yes, I need a doctor, I think... I remember... a car crash. What happened?"
"Well, you just screwed up the driving part, man," Bill said, but he could tell that this answer didn't satisfy Phil. "Oh, but it was just a game, understand? It wasn't real! Yesterday I got hit by a truck on the street. It was pretty bad."
"Where's my family, then?"
"You understand, Steve... that wasn't real, either. It was all a game!" Bill said, carefully and clearly pronouncing each word.
"You're kidding," Phil shouted. "I don't understand what the hell you're talking about."
"Let me show you," Bill said and took his hand. He led him out the door. There was a long corridor with many doors on either side. They came to one door and went in. It looked exactly as the room they had just left. Only the casket was closed and the screen was showing a movie. "This," said Bill, "is what it's about. You lie in this... coffin... and you kind of get into a virtual world. People can even watch what's going on in your head on this screen. If you want, I can get you a tape of this game you just played."
"I don't believe any of this! It's ridiculous. I want to go home!" Phil shouted.
"I can help you with that." Bill led him back to the corridor and, at its end, entered a room that looked like a strange elevator. Bill entered a code on a small keyboard by the door and the door closed. Phil didn't feel anything move, he only heard soft shuffling noises coming from all around the cabin. After a couple of seconds the door slid open again. There was a smaller corridor this time. They finally entered a door at the end.
The room was scarcely furnished. There was a bed, a closet, a carpet on the floor, a table and a chair. "What's this?" Phil asked.
"That's where you live, Steve," Bill replied and shrugged.
"No, it's not! Get me back to real life! This is a nightmare!"
"I'm afraid it's not, buddy. Now you're behaving like a little child. It's only a game!"
"I don't know what you're talking about. It sure wasn't any game. It was so... real!" Phil shouted.
Bill frowned. "You really should see a doctor, Steve."
Phil was growing more and more angry. He was red in the face and he started shaking. "I don't need a fucking doctor!!!" he screamed and threw himself on Bill, hitting him in the nose with a heavy blow. Bill was shaken but not so much as to collapse. The one who passed out was Phil. He doubled up and fell onto the floor with a heavy thud.
There were circumstances Phil wasn't aware of. First, life was so different from that in the computer game. Human beings had destroyed their planet almost completely. Everybody lived in huge buildings sealed off from the outside. There was no way of going outside because of the poisonous atmosphere. There was no way of seeing real sunlight.
Just a small fragment of people survived in artificial conditions. And to amuse themselves in the otherwise drab and boring world, they invented the Game Center, where people could experience what people might have really experienced a hundred years before.
"I've seen a lot of computer-game addicts in my life," the doctor said to Bill, "but this one is really one of the worst cases I've ever had. He took the game so seriously that he forgot there's world outside. He completely buried his old self and now thinks that he's some 'Phil' from the computer game. I'm not sure whether he'll recover or not, but we'll certainly do our best to cure his... addiction. However, I don't think that it will ever be safe to let him get near the game center again.
Phil, however, never recovered. He spent the rest of his life in a medical institution, confined to bed. He was unable to get rid of his addiction to life.
Checked for correct language by John Finn, Maryland, USA