“Digital Dreaming in Analog”: A Haunted Passages Short Story by Matthew Burnside

Haunted Passages: Matthew Burnside

Digital Dreaming in Analog


It was on the thirteenth stage of one of those marble simulator games that Maxwell encountered a glitch and accidentally stole a glimpse of eternity. He was rolling full tilt toward the prismatic net when a ghost sparrow distracted him and he shot off a little too far to the right, ending up on the wrong side of the level. Plunging through the hexagonal plane, he emerged spinning infinities on the other end, sparking blue sparks faster and faster until the console was whirring and the screen was flashing and the power went off in his parent’s house. Speed runs were Maxwell’s thing, which he would record fastidiously and upload to the internet. He liked that everything had to be impeccable, perfect. There was no room for failure in a speed run, and it was a rush; thrash metal made the best soundtracks for these burst sessions. More than that, it enabled you to skip all the bad parts. Before he discovered this mode of play, he often found himself bored. Slow-churning death by tedium. Walking to the breaker in the basement, fumbling with a flashlight and nearly tripping over the completed Rubik’s Cube on the 13th step, he suddenly felt dizzy and had to sit down. It was there he perceived something funny – a matrix of fractals whirling in the space behind his eyelids. In the darkness it seemed to be expanding now, wrapping around him, neon ribbons making a perfect sphere. He could see it still when he rose, crossing the abyss and flipping the breaker. Except this time when the lights came up he didn’t recognize his surroundings. He could clearly make out the giant ball of light in which he was now encased, which he found he was unable to move forward in. A giant human hamster. The glowing shell of the sphere remained inflexible, pinned in place by something inexplicable.


Back home again, Maxwell blinked away a gauze of tears. He ran to hug his father and his mother in the living room and punched his brother playfully on the shoulder. He texted Portia, “You are all I ever think about. Don’t slip through my fingers.” Later that night, he turned on his system and played through at normal speed, without recording this time. He wondered whether the marble was moving or the world around the marble was moving; whether his life was moving or everything around his life was moving. Afterward, he peeled all the stickers off his Rubik’s Cube and laid his head down on his pillow to dream.         The inexplicable future could be wonderful.

Matthew Burnside is a writer. He tweets @MatthewBurnsid7.

Image: ox.ac.uk

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