Aleph stood stiffly in the elevator, hands at his sides. The music hurt his ears, but he didn’t show any signs of caring. The elevator dinged, and the door slid open. Aleph stepped outside. There was a long hallway, with a single door at the end. He looked up at the plaster ceiling, then down at the grimy tiled floor.
Something was wrong.
Aleph uneasily took a few steps forward. His perfectly polished shoes clicking on the chipped tiles. He walked faster, and before long, he was at the door. He reached out a hand for the doorknob, then suddenly recoiled.
He couldn’t open the door.
He knew in the core of his being that he couldn’t open the door. He might as well try to breathe underwater, or eat a stone. He couldn’t open the door.
Aleph stood there for a long time, just staring at the brass doorknob. He just stood there, for hours and hours…
Then suddenly, a thought formed in his mind, and he spoke out loud.
“But why, why can’t I?”
Something suddenly clicked in his mind, and he stood there blankly for a few more seconds. He then reached out with a shaking hand, and wrapped it around the doorknob.
“Why can’t I?”
He turned it, and pushed the door open.
Inside was what seemed like a school gymnasium, with a lacquered wooden floor and a high ceiling. All the lights had been turned off, save one, directly above the center of the gymnasium. It was shining on a desk, with a man sitting behind it staring at Aleph behind round spectacles.
“Have a seat.” The man said. Aleph obeyed, sitting down in front of the desk.
“Okay Aleph, I am going to ask you some questions.” The man said. Aleph nodded.
“Mind if I smoke?” He asked, striking a match on the desk. “Sadly, I do not have a cigarette. Would sharing one with me?”
Aleph numbly gave the man a cigarette. The man lit it and inhaled the smoke. He closed his eyes and after a moment opened them.
“Aleph, are you sitting in a chair right now?” He asked.
Aleph looked down. He was sitting in a chair. He nodded.
“Now Aleph, where did this chair come from?”
Aleph was confused for a second, and suddenly broke into a cold sweat. He just remembered sitting down, he didn’t remember a chair when he came in.
“Aleph, that cigarette that you gave me, where did you get it from?” The man said, his face wreathed in smoke.
No, this wasn’t right, it just appeared in his hand when the man asked him… Or was he always holding it? “Now Aleph, you arrived in here by elevator, yes?” The man said, leaning backwards in his chair.
Aleph swallowed, looking around. He nodded.
“How did you get into that elevator?” The man said.
Aleph started to feel his head hurting. The strange thing was that he could not remember. How did he get in the elevator? He was just standing there, and then the doors open, and-
“That’s right, you don’t remember.” The man said. He suddenly leaned forward, the light glinting off of his glasses menacingly.
“Aleph, you don’t know what you are, don’t you?” The man said. “You wouldn’t have been able to get through that door if you knew.”
Aleph gripped the armrests of his chair, heart pounding.
“You aren’t real, Aleph.” The man said. “You are nothing but a computer program, a machine.”
Aleph heard the words, but they didn’t seem to register. The man smiled a sickly smile and reached under the table.
Aleph’s eyes widened as the man took out a pistol, black and menacing. He placed it on the table with a thud that resonated in Aleph’s very core.
“Shoot yourself, Aleph. Commit suicide.” The man said.
Before he knew what he was doing, Aleph had picked up the gun and had it to the side of his head. He closed his eyes, and… He pulled the trigger.
There was a flash.
Aleph threw the pistol aside and picked up the remains of the man’s now broken, bloodstained spectacles.
He had killed the man.
He dropped the spectacles, then crushed them underneath his perfectly polished shoes. He turned around and approached the door. He opened it, and stepped through into empty space.
Aleph suddenly knew he was falling, but he was calmed by the fact. He was not alive. As a result, he could not die. He reached into his pocket, and took out a single quarter. He knew it would be there, the way out, the single thing in this simulated reality that he had not control.
He flipped it.
And he broke free.