Brandon Dauphin feels like a dying ember. He's jobless and feels worthless, and falling in love has only made his problem worse. In an authoritarian and overstimulated 22nd-century America, all he can do to relieve his pain is indulge in the computer-simulated fantasies of a network called Dynamic Reality, until a virus takes control of the simulation. Unable to return to the real world, Brandon finds that the virus shares his questions about existence, and that she will stop at nothing for her answers.
The question seemed to trap me. With each passing day, I felt more that I would need to face it, or that it would destroy me.
I ran my hand along the surface of the old poster: an advertisement for one of Thomas Edison’s famous inventions, one of the first devices to capture a moving image. I knew that its simple films were fantastic marvels to an older generation. I thought of their old sense of wonder, and how it was preserved in that place. I envied them.
I spent a long moment feeling the surface of the poster with my fingertips, wondering why it didn’t seem as real anymore. A small piece of card-paper scraped against my nose.
“You? Staring off into space? I’m impressed.”
I took the orange ticket from Vair’s hand and managed to smile. “I thought you hated musicals.”
“With a passion,” she said, glancing to what I had been staring at. “Vitascope,” she read, smiling as she tapped her finger on the poster. “C’mon, Brandon, we’re in Technicolor now.”
The sights and sounds that day were familiar and powerful. Sometimes it seemed as if the pictures were the only joy I had left in life, the only thing that could comfort me in difficult times. We all took to our seats as the chandelier lights dimmed and The March of Time filled the silver screen with images of the European continent at war.
Isn’t this the sort of thing we want to forget?
As usual, Vair casually began shoveling popcorn into her mouth. I found my hand resting on her free one, the contact making me feel anchored to something I needed, as if it were more real than I was, something I could admire but never understand.
There was a flash in the corner of my eye.
“Not again,” Vair said under her breath.
We knew that the glitches held nothing good for us and let the moment pass, hoping that they would go away on their own, or at least stay small enough to be ignored.
On screen, reality and war were replaced by images of fantasy and imagination: a story grounded in a humble family farm in Kansas. The mood of the room softened as we were drawn into the dilemmas of a girl named Dorothy. I put my arm around Vair, knowing that she would already be engrossed in the plot, musical or no. I reached for some of her popcorn, hoping that I would be fast enough. My hand got smacked. Such things always amused her. I plopped my fedora on her head and pulled it over her eyes. She plucked it off, bit onto the brim and whispered that it needed salt.
“I used to have a neighbor just like her,” she said as we saw Miss Gulch seize Dorothy’s dog, Toto, having claimed that the dog bit her.