Simon began to suspect he was living in a computer simulation. And not only a computer simulation, but a flawed or infected one.
This wasn’t just a philosophical idea metastasizing into a neurosis or psychosis. More and more, Simon thought he was detecting seams in the matrix, tiny fractures in the surface of his so-called reality. One morning while shaving, he observed, to his horror, his mirror-self laughing. And not just laughing but in hysterics, ugly and unbecoming. This would not have been abnormal had he actually been laughing. But on that occasion, having just received word that his beloved Aunt Mary had passed after a long battle with Lewy body dementia, he was decidedly not laughing. He would not have been laughing under any circumstances that morning.
That was just one alarming example. Things were also missing: coins, keys, pills—small things. Who took them? He lived alone. No one had broken into his flat. Things just didn’t go missing. And since his mental inventory of all his possessions was faulty, other things could have gone missing without his knowledge, items of clothing and jewelry. Shoes. He double-checked his shoe closet. Although he wasn’t absolutely certain—he vaguely recalled exchanging them for another pair—it appeared a pair of vintage Nike Jokers was missing.
And if things weren’t missing, they were often moved around. The other day he found his Stetson cowboy hat in the laundry hamper. Who the devil would put a Stetson in a laundry hamper? He hadn’t received a visitor in months. Indeed he couldn’t remember the last person who visited—it could have been his silly brother Maurice. Maurice was a fool. He never used to be so foolish. Perhaps further evidence of a program error.
Simon had read online that the universe cannot be simulated by any imaginable algorithm or computer, that life and reality cannot be merely simulations generated by a gargantuan extraterrestrial computer. But these scientists spoke with such blithe assurance and confidence that it made Simon uneasy. How could they possibly know an advanced species’ capabilities? Such hubris. We had been around in our present manifestation for what, 10,000 years? What if we continued for 150 million years? What would our computers be like 100 million years from now?
But then, Simon thought, even the doubts, even the hubris, even the projections were part of the larger program. He had no way of proving this, of course, but believed with every fiber of his being that things were not as they seemed, that time and matter were not what they seemed.
Also, his interactions with other people had grown more problematic than ever. He had always run into difficulties with others. People had always perplexed him—their wants, needs, and aggression. But these days they were utterly incomprehensible. Talk about aliens. He simply didn’t understand them. He preferred the company of animals. Animals were more honest in their interactions with the universe. His dog Max had passed last year; he had never really gotten over it. He would get another dog eventually, but for now he was alone. During his loneliest moments, he wondered if Max’s death was part of a regular simulation or a defective one.
Of course Simon questioned himself about his suspicions. Living in a simulation? Sounded crazy. To who could he tell such a thing? When people talked about far out subjects like UFOs and flat earth theory, others looked at them like they were nuts. If he told someone about his suspicions they would think he needed medication or a padded room. Perhaps he was depressed and paranoid, seeing what wasn’t there, or not seeing what was there. But that did not explain the weirdness of people these days. It was as if the simulation had a virus.
Just the other morning as he walked into the grocery store, a man accosted him. The man had on a green garbage bag. This would have been distasteful enough had it been raining, but on that day there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. When the man asked Simon for change, Simon said he would give it to him if he answered one question. Shoot, the guy said. Why was he wearing a green garbage bag? Simon asked. The man smiled with blackened teeth and said that honestly, he had no idea why he was wearing a green garbage bag. He had never worn one before.
Simon gave the man some coins and moved on with his business. If that wasn’t confirmation of a faulty simulation, what was?
After grocery shopping, Simon headed home. He felt strange. His forehead pulsed. Lights flickered. While he was putting away his foodstuffs, he developed a piercing pain in his right temple. The pain was hot, metallic. He rushed to the bathroom for his migraine medication. When he couldn’t find the pill box, he panicked. Where the hell was it? He emptied the medicine cabinet. Nothing. Then he made the mistake of looking in the mirror. Once again, to his horror, his reflection laughed at him.