Habit Yourself to the Dazzle of Light
Jared Yates Sexton
When Valerie met her husband Rich in The Fog—which was often—it was sometimes distracting how his body would be surrounded by a golden aura. She had tried to ignore it at first, imagined it was some heavenly luminescence, but she’d never been successful at disregarding it completely. Its nagging existence bothered her so much she could hardly focus on their bouts of marathon virtual lovemaking set in exotic and impressive locales. To try and remedy the problem, she contacted the operating company FogCo and put in a request for tech support.
No worries, a reply appeared instantly. Developers have already included a halo fix into the upcoming software upgrade Fog 4.0.
Valerie knew the new operating system was due out in three days, a virtual eternity in Fog-Time. After all, when plugged into the virtual-existence simulator time as she had known it in pre-Singularity days came to a practical standstill. She and Rich could dance their way around the world and back, travel through the artificial stars and galaxies, live entire lives and conquer dreams and empires, in what roughly amounted to a half hour in real existence. To wait another three days for a fix to her problem was akin to receiving a life sentence in Purgatory.
What’s the matter? Rich said as he thrusted away at her. They were on an paradisiacal island. Breathtakingly beautiful birds were soaring above them and serenading them with an auto-tuned croon. You seem distracted, he said.
It’s nothing, she said. She was filled with complete physical pleasure, which had become her natural state of being. But she wasn’t able to fully focus on the pleasure or appreciate the pleasure because of the glow emanating from Rich’s skin. Instead, she was looking at the sky and how the hologram twinkled like stars at a distance.
Rich pulled away from her with his upper body while his lower half continued its thrusting in perfectly-timed piston-like undulations. Is it the glow again? he asked.
With a sigh she relented. Yes, she said. It’s the glow.
Would you like me to stop? he said.
No, she said. Yes. Either way.
A few seconds later Rich yielded and sat beside her. Despite being eighty years old he appeared as he had when he was twenty-six, when they’d first met at a dinner party. His hair was expertly parted and his body statuesque. He gazed off at the birds and the digitized volcano that loomed over them. I’m sorry about the glow, he said after a moment.
It’s fine, she said and raised herself up onto her elbow. Doesn’t it bother you? she said.
No, he said matter-of-factly.
Do you see it?
Sometimes, he said and picked a leaf of grass from the dirt. He smelled it, bringing a smile to his face before he let it go and watched it swim away on the breeze. I’ve learned to ignore the glitches, he said.
Oh, he said, the small ones. The way the air sizzles before we change locations. How nothing smells quite right. Like plastic.
I can handle the plastic smell, Valerie said.
Your eyes sparkle, Rich said. Particularly when I apply one of the older skins.
Valerie cocked her head. Somewhere a lone bird was singing the same tune its family was crooning but the program had glitched and it sounded less like a melody than a printer growling out a stretch of paper. Richard, Valerie said, are you applying a skin to me right now?
Without shame Richard nodded. Yes, he admitted.
Female Model Subset 42 A, he said.
With a thought Valerie applied Female Model Subset 42 A and Rich transformed instantly into an impossibly buxom model clad in a green string bikini. Her long and immaculate hair hung down over her heaving breasts and tickled the bed of grass.
I can’t believe you, Valerie said. I cannot believe you.
What? he said, his gorgeous blue eyes sparkling unnaturally.
We agreed that we wouldn’t use skins anymore.
I don’t know, Valerie said. It’s gotten hard keeping track of time. Awhile back. We agreed.
I didn’t agree to that, Rich said.
A bell sound played and Valerie’s visual display received another message from FogCo. No worries, it said again, Developers have already included a halo fix into the upcoming software upgrade Fog 4.0.
Disable, Valerie thought and the message disappeared.
Let’s go to Rome, Rich said. Let’s do it on the steps of Saint Peter’s. Or load one of the history applications.
I’m tired, Valerie said. I can’t believe how tired I am. She crawled her eyes down the bikini model’s body. Default, she thought and the bikini model disappeared and was replaced by Rich as he had been when they’d first entered The Fog. He was feeble, spotted and covered in smatters of black, gray, and white hair. His flesh hung loosely in folds and his face was wrinkled and pathetic. Past Richard, Valerie panicked and thought. Past Richard. Soon he was back to his idealized self, the glow returned and blazing as if in accusation.
Use a revitalization app, Rich said. Boost up and we’ll go back to The Renaissance and fuck in DaVinci’s studio. We could do it in Cleopatra’s bedchamber or among the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
I’m logging off, Valerie said.
Rich recoiled in horror and said, What?
I’ll be back, she said and then thought, Log off. A notice appeared: Are you sure? I’m sure, Valerie thought and immediately the air crackled with violence and her vision was replaced with a thick and milky sleep from which she had to emerge. She fought her way through and when her eyes opened, with much protest, she found she was sitting in the living room of the house she and Rich lived in. It was dark, the room filled with shadows. Rich, in his undershirt and trousers, sat on the nearby loveseat, his eyes closed and mouth hanging open.
Valerie worked the life back into her limbs before crossing the distance between them and gently touching his chin to close his mouth. She felt his skin and marveled at how different it was outside of The Fog.
She stood looking at him until a light flashed from outside. It lit up the room momentarily before another followed. Valerie knew it was a Spark Ad, one of the countless pop-ups that were everywhere now. She went to the window and gazed outside at the empty streets and all of the surrounding houses, dark and seemingly abandoned. The world looked deserted except for the sad-sack moon hanging overhead among a sky devoid of stars. The air below sizzled with budding advertisements—smell apps, taste apps, skin apps, travel apps, emotion apps and inspiration apps—that appeared and disappeared as random as neon ghosts. She searched among their clutter for any sign of life before calling up her clock app. An invisible nanobot, one of the infinite of which populated the air like so much pollen, projected the time and date. Three days, Valerie said to herself with a sigh before returning to the couch to wait.
JARED YATES SEXTON is a born-and-bred Hoosier living and working in The South as an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Georgia Southern University. He is the author of three story collections, The Hook and The Haymaker and I Am The Oil Of The Engine Of The World, both forthcoming from Split Lip Press, and the crime-novel Bring Me The Head of Yorkie Goodman, forthcoming from New Pulp Press.