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(A continuation of Sifting Tobacco Co)

Little Timmy Rays always liked to eat those old fashioned potato chips. He loved all the flavors but most of all he liked the Salt ‘n Vinegar flavored ones. He remembered hearing about them when he was three, old stories his dad brought home, and the combination of salt and vinegar on potato chips intrigued him. They had gone out of production during the entertainment crash of 2160, about fifty years before he was born. Luckily he had figured out the rules to parent manipulation and managed to have his father (a very rich and influential man) bring them back into production. He loved how easily his father would jump at his every whim.

Though Timmy’s parents would do anything for him just to make him happy, he hated them. One would speculate that he was a spoiled child who didn’t know how lucky he had it. But he considered them both idiots. They managed, however indirectly and even perhaps without intention, to alienate him from any other child his age. Even at the young age of seven he had managed to become a dark minded and depressed boy.

But one summer while swimming in the ocean tunnels of the Adriatic he met a girl named Sarah who was just like him. Spoiled, ungrateful, bratty, and seemingly more intelligent than her own parents. But she didn’t seem to despise the world or even act like a lonesome soul; in fact she was extremely content given her situation. When Timmy asked her how she could be so happy with her life, she told him about her way of coping with it all.

It was a product by a company called Sifting Electronics known as a virtual life simulator. The company had the World Congress in its back pocket and was therefore able to “bend” the act passed years ago about computer graphic limitation in computer games. This Virtual Reality set was almost more realistic than the real world Timmy discovered when the girl let him try her set. It didn’t take two hours before his dad was presenting him with his own VR headset. He could create his own custom world through the headset, and even though he was aware it was virtual, the reality of it was all too captivating.

Sarah’s world had been one of fantasy filled with mystical creatures and magical wonders, but Timmy just wanted a normal world, with friends, parents, a school with real teachers. Of course teachers were hardly around anymore unless one was attending a college of some sort, but Timmy didn’t care. He set up a home in a place once known as Chicago, next to a river that passed under a bridge. It was a beautiful depiction of the dying 20th century world, from crumbling brick apartments to the smog spewing from the 24 hour traffic that plagued the city.

He had given himself some average (leaning towards good) parents, some siblings, and friends of different shapes and sizes. But he did not have free reign over this virtual world, the computer took liberty to keep it chaotic and (if it seemed like what the user was shooting for) as realistic as possible. So sometimes when Timmy would get attached to his friends they would suddenly have to move away, and new ones would come along and his interaction with different kinds of people grew and grew. In this world of his there were greater things than just potato chips, there were candies and chocolates of all sorts and he indulged himself.

When his real parents did exercise some authority and told him it was time for bed or dinner or whatever he found the real world to be extremely dull and boring. When he heard his parents finally rest down for the night he would put his VR headset on and sleep in his virtual home and dream virtual dreams. The VR computer took from these dreams different subtle things, and made them interlaced with the reality world Timmy woke to. But as these changes were subtle Timmy took no notice of them.

It was an addiction worse than potato chips. He hardly ate or slept normally, he became malnourished, and one day on his way to the dinner table he actually fainted. When he woke up he was in a hospital bed with strange objects attached all over him. The lights were bright and hurt his eyes, but he couldn’t bring his arm up to shield them; it was bound down. All his limbs were.

“What’s going on? Mum? Dad?”

“We’re here son.” Came the reply.

“Why am I here?”

“You haven’t been eating enough, the doctors are giving you the nutrients your body has been missing. You need to eat son.” It was his mother.

“But I’m not hungry.”

“You’re spending too much time in that game of yours, what is it? The doctors tried to examine it but it seems to only power up when it’s on your head.” His father this time. He still couldn’t see anything but the bright luminescent ceiling.

“It’s none of your business that’s what it is!” he said harshly. His wrists began to ache from pulling against the bindings. “Why do I have to be strapped down?”

“Son, the nutrient generators cause convulsionsthroughout your body. It’s so you don’t hurt yourself.” still his dad.

“I want to go home, let me go home!”

“But you’re still week, a few more days.”

“I want to go now! Where’s my game!”

“It’s right here son, on the table next to your bed. Will you calm down if we let you have it.” The father bargaining, typical.

“Yes…” glowered Timmy. He suddenly saw his fathers face just out of his view getting closer, him lifting up something (the headset), and placing it on Timmy’s head. Everything was black, it was a smooth and comfortable fit, adjusting nicely to the contours of his face. And then it activated itself, and the sensations of his reality faded into the sensations of his virtual universe.

--

“How do you wanna get back there?” it was Andrew. A year younger than Timmy at seven, he had white blonde hair sitting rather defiantly on his small round head. Although younger, Andrew was a few inches taller than Timmy, and of course that bugged Timmy, who wanted to be superior to everyone, especially his peers. “Hello? Which way?”

Timmy noticed in his hand was a bag of bread crumbs. He remembered his mom had given him and Andrew the bag so they could go feed the ducks down by the river. A fence blocked off the river, probably because someone had drowned a few years back Timmy assumed. “Let’s go this way.” Timmy decided leading them to the entrance on the left. It was a joke, the fence, you could get back there easily if you just followed it till it ended (which it did in either direction).

There was also a way to get in by the bridge that crossed it, a small gap between the railing and fencing that only children could fit through. They were going around some foliage where the fence ended on the left and down to the riverbank. There they found the group of ducks, male and female alike, swimming through the waters ever so peacefully. Timmy pulled some crumbs out of his bag and handed it to Andrew before we walked closer to the water. The ducks use to swim away, but now that he had been to see them a few times they seemed to know him and treated him accordingly, coming just close enough for him to toss the bread crumbs near. There was a frenzy as they all rushed after the scattered and floating crumbs.

One duck ventured forward slowly, stopping just feet away on the muddy bank. Timmy stared as the duck looked deep into his eyes, and for a moment it seemed he had lost himself and was flying through the air. And then it was over as the uncoordinated movements of Andrew had brought him tripping to the ground, sending the duck into flight.

“Dangit Andrew!” Timmy yelled. “I was going to feed it by hand, now it’ll never trust me.” Andrew stood up, the knees to his pants covered in mud, as well as his palms which he wiped on his jeans.

“I’m sorry Timmy, I didn’t mean to!” said Andrew in apology. And then suddenly there was a big KERPLUNK and the rest of the ducks went into flight. The water splashed up towards heaven and then sprinkled down on their faces. “Wh-what was that?” asked Andrew with a puzzled expression.

Timmy turned to see four buzzed head kids standing behind them, hands in pockets, white shirts dulled with mud streaks. Most of them were around Timmy’s age but one was probably a year or two younger.

“What are you kids doing here?” asked one of the older boys.

“Nothin,” came Timmy’s response.

“Well you’re not suppose to be back here.” Said the kid, stepping forward. His skin was pale and sprinkled with freckles.

“Yeah, neither are you.” Said Andrew. Timmy winced: this was no time to be getting smart, these kids felt like trouble.

“Yeah well this is our spot, and you kids are in it.”

“I’m sorry, we’ll leave,” said Timmy taking a step around the group of kids. An extended arm stopped him short.

“I don’t think so kid, come on over this way.” They were led along the riverbank towards the small bridge. “You guys wait here, I’ll be right back.” The kid went over and whispered a few things to his younger brother and then left back the way they had come. Timmy walked towards the gap between the fence and the bridge but was intercepted by the little kid.

“You can’t go this way.” Came the high voice. Timmy was scared, standing on a concrete cinder block, looking down at their situation. Some of the other kids were starting to pick on Andrew. He then looked over at the gap where the kid was blocking his escape and then at the bridge extending itself twenty feet over the fast moving waters. The railing was just five feet away, he might be able to jump onto the railing and run to his house close by to get his mother.

There was a crack, and some deep voices. The other kid was returning with some older people, Andrew was being pushed around, he had to act. Timmy jumped with all his might and hit the railing hard, knocking the wind out of himself. He grasped onto the bars and pulled as hard as he could, making it through the railing. As soon as his feet hit the ground he broke into a sprint. Tears were streaming down his face, he was screaming “MOTHER! MOTHER!”

--

And then he was back in the hospital, grasping for his headset that was no longer there. Grasping at his face. The bonds were off, and so were all the strange objects. His eyes were wet from tears, and his heart was racing.

“What’s wrong darling?” asked his concerned mother.

“Why did you take it off?” he yelled.

“We’re going home now, I thought you’d be happy…” Timmy sat up from the bed and jumped down to the cold tiled floor. Everything was so white it hurt, he was furious, he had to get Andrew out. He stood in silent anger as his parents got him dressed, and walked in silent anger as they led him out of the building to one of the Transit Stations. When the bus arrived his father handed him the VR headset and sat down next to his wife. Timmy took a seat several rows ahead by himself and slid the headset back into its natural place, on his head.

--

His mother was holding him tight as he told her what had happened amid sobs. He was pulling her outside, towards the river.

“It’s all right dear, you’re all right now,” she comforted him. He breathed heavily, his stomach hurt. She left him sitting on the porch and went towards the bridge. He saw the four boys suddenly pop out and start running across the bridge and around the corner, with his mother in close pursuit, though she was simply walking, walking, walking out of sight. And then he remembered Anthony.

He ran fast and hard towards the bridge and jumped through the gap. He didn’t see Anthony anywhere. He called out and heard no answer in reply. And then suddenly Timmy gasped at a horrifying sight: a blood-soaked shoe floating down the river.

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