Machination: a plot or scheme with evil intent.

The world had changed. Not that anyone noticed, the day to day machinations of society proceeding as normal. As expected. Boring. But the boy saw it, even at five years old. He saw it in the mirror, in the eyes of his teacher; in his dog. Not that it was tangible, or even describable — at least for him — but he knew something was off-kilter.

At eleven he had a better grasp of the language, a better grasp of reality, yet still the description eluded him. It just felt wrong. Looked wrong. The world was like smoked glass.

At eighteen he knew what it was, but nobody would listen. He shouted, he screamed. He fought against the system. And lost, over and over. So he gave up, for a time.

And things became worse.

Thirty. He was responsible. He had a family. Yet they were fake, he knew. The world pretended to turn, the sun pretended to shine, but the shimmer on the heat blasted asphalt in summer was as counterfeit as the mulled wine his wife purported to love in the winter. Tasteless. Colourless. Abstract.

Forty years old and he had reached the end. Or at least he thought he had. But he held in there.

Then, forty-two years after his birth, he cracked.

Change is inevitable.

Ironically, he laughed, nobody noticed at first. They never noticed the broken glass. The bleach. The drain cleaner. They never noticed the pushes, the shoves; the carefully chosen words designed to break the weaker willed.

And then they did.

But he had escaped.

Twenty-three years he ran, surviving off of his wits, sacrificing what little peace of mind he had for the greater good—although, it had occurred to him, he himself might have been the total sum of the greater good.

Maybe it was a simulation of his own creation. Maybe he was a test subject. Maybe he was part of someone else’s simulation.

But no, that was ridiculous.

Too easy.

The day they caught up with him he was celebrating his sixty-sixth birthday. A good age. Not a great age, but good enough. He would have liked more, but he was tired. And nothing really mattered anyway. None of it was real. He was ready to quit the game. Hang up his joystick. Tab to transient.

The gunfight was short and bloody. Three more, by his reckoning, he took down. But then the inevitable occurred. In retrospect, he acknowledged, grimacing through the pain, maybe paying taxes was actually preferable.

And as his eyes closed for the final time, a tear on his cheek, blood at the corner of his mouth, he realised that he missed his son. And he missed his wife. Even if they were not real.

© JR Bryden, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from JR Bryden is strictly prohibited.

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