The following piece was awarded Second Prize in the OU Students Association The Outside World Writing Competition for Freshers Fortnight 2021 (20 Sept – 3 Oct). The author, Tom, is living in Lanarkshire, Scotland, and is currently studying the final two modules of BSc Design & Innovation.
Jason was engrossed in his video reality game. It was compelling. The headset visor showed a 360 degree realistic world. He could travel in any direction. The wireless earphones on the headset gave him very real surround sound. The body, leg, hand and arm sensors let him feel every sensation. Leaf slaps, rain drops, everything.
He had made his way through the jungle hacking a route in the dense vines and bushes with his virtual reality machete. He finally arrived at a small clearing. The temperature control pads in the VR kit were heating up causing him to sweat just as he should in a humid jungle setting after hard physical effort. He had encountered various creatures on his trek and had managed to avoid them. There had been a large snake, an anaconda he thought. It didn’t appear to notice him. There were many squawking birds and a couple of noisy monkeys travelling across the high tree tops as well as a ridiculous amount of insects – all shapes, sizes and colours. He marvelled at the software programme that could produce all this. It was hard to remember that he was actually in his own room at home.
Jason sat down to rest. He was now sweating profusely. Unexpectedly he felt the ground tremble underfoot. It was strange. It didn’t seem to affect the jungle creatures. A line of termites he had been watching continued their relentless march, unaffected, across the clearing. He didn’t know if tremors or earthquakes were part of the game or not. It was quite likely. After a while he rose to continue his journey. He thought he sensed, heard or felt something. He spun around quickly. All he saw was the jungle he had just left as well as the opening he had cut. He shrugged, faced front, and crossed the clearing. He raised his machete as he approached the next stretch of dense green foliage.
Suddenly he felt pressure on both his shoulders. It was trying to turn him around. It was nothing to do with the VR game. It was real. He allowed his body to turn. The VR headset was lifted from his head. The jungle disappeared in a flash. He was looking up into the face of a serious-looking fireman.
‘You’re a lucky boy,’ announced the fireman, ‘look around you.’
Jason surveyed his room. Three walls were gone and half of the ceiling. He could see fire engines and an ambulance out in the street. There was a crowd of people. He spotted Mrs McGuire from next door. He had been protected by the only standing wall and the remaining half of the ceiling. His computer equipment was standing against the wall. It must still have power since the game was still working.
‘What’s happened?’ he asked.
‘Let’s get you out of here first.’ The fireman disconnected Jason from the kit and quickly led him out of the room where the door should have been.
He was sitting on the steps of an ambulance with a thin silver sheet over his shoulders and sipping a cup of tea which Mrs McGuire had placed into his hands. A paramedic had declared him to be fine. He looked down the street at his home, or what was left of it. There was a large lorry embedded in the house. It had taken out the front door and the living room window. The fence was gone and the garden looked like a ploughed field. The whole front wall had collapsed and at least one side wall. He could see into his bedroom which was above the living room. He realised he was indeed a lucky boy. The fireman had been right. He was grateful that his parents were still at work and it had only been him in the house.
Mrs McGuire, who had been standing quietly beside him, tapped his shoulder and pointed to the other end of the street. His parents, alongside a policewoman, were walking down the street. He stood up, shouted ‘mum’, and ran towards her. His mum ran to him. They embraced. Both had tears in their eyes. Dad joined the hug. After a few moments they separated. Jason looked from his mum to his dad and back again. His faced became very serious.
‘I never done anything, honest! I was in the jungle and …’
His parents burst into laughter and hugged him tight.