Your Number

You’re in the kitchen making dinner, listening to one of your favorite albums in your headphones because the neighbor is out mowing the lawn yet again. Chopping up the potatoes, singing along because the house is empty, still, and then the music stops.

You frown, wipe your hands off quickly, and pull your phone out of your pocket. Oh, it’s a call. Your area code, but unknown number. You shrug and pick up. “Hello?”

A woman’s voice you don’t recognize says, “Is Sandy there?”

“No, sorry, you must have the wrong number.” For some reason you’ve been getting a lot of these lately. You rattle off your number.

“Oh, shoot, you’re right. I should have known! You don’t sound like a Sandy,” she says.

“Yup, have a nice day…” And you’re about to hang up when a moment of deja vu makes you stop and wait. Didn’t this exact conversation just happen recently? You could swear that ‘You don’t sound like a Sandy’ line is just too familiar. Where did you hear that?

Then her voice breaks your reverie. “Umm, sorry. You still there?” She says ‘still’ with a slight drawl, but you can’t place the accent.

“Yeah, uhh.” You blink. “You want something?”

“What… what’s the date? I mean I know this sounds like a prank call…” But it doesn’t. She sounds earnest, and a bit stressed out.

“Uhh, I’m not sure. It’s Sunday. Like the twentieth or something, maybe?”

“But it’s… it’s 2017 where you are, yeah?”

“Look lady–” And just as you’re about to yell at her for messing with you, a strange echoing series of clicks interrupt you, rhythmic and almost musical, but loud and getting louder. They get so loud that she’s saying something you can’t hear at all beneath the noise.

“Gah!” you yell, as you rip the earbuds from your ears. Your phone shouldn’t be even able to get that loud. You stand there, weirdly embarrassed, staring at the wires as they sit placidly on the waiting pile of chopped potatoes.

The mower next door buzzes. You can hear something coming out of the headphones. Oh, right… it’s the album you were listening to before. You pop the earbuds back in, pick up the knife, and slice the onion down the center.

And then the music stops again. Another call. Same number. You have to confess to yourself that you’re kind of curious. Even if it’s a prank, she’s at least entertaining.

So you answer it. “Hello?”

“Is Sandy there?” It’s the same woman.

“No, you still have the wrong number.”

“And you still don’t sound like a Sandy,” she says.

“Well, it’s 2017 still, if that’s what you’re after.”

“Who’s president? Trump, right?” Her voice sounds like she’s almost too nervous to ask it.

You sigh. “Yeah, sad as that is, right?” Your reply comes out of your mouth before you realize how strange her question is. Then a strange whooshing noise comes across the line, and you hear what sounds like an argument in the background.

“Listen, Frank,” a man’s voice says loudly. “It’s too late, the branch has grown too long after we cut the root.”

“No, I’m telling you, we can take this upstairs.” A different male voice.

“Forget upstairs. We’re talking about fundamental laws,” says Not-Frank.

A tiny click and then you hear the woman sigh. “I’m really sorry I involved you in this.” Then she breathes your name like she knows you. “I’m sorry.” In that moment, you could swear she’s a relative. Or an old friend. But you just can’t place her.

The clicks start overriding her just as she starts to say something else, and you yell “Bye!” as you rip the headphones out.

Standing there, staring at the cutting board still, you shake your head. Then you pull up your call log and call back.

A man with gravel in his voice answers. “Hello, this is Sandy.”

“Oh, uhh, sorry. Wrong number,” you find yourself saying, feeling slightly dizzy.

“Look, we’ll try to purge and reincorporate the branch you’re on, but it probably won’t work. Things have gotten too strange. We just clipped a root of Trump branches, but we must have missed one.”

“Branches? What the hell are you talking about?”

“Now your time is isolated. You have our apologies, but there’s nothing else we can do…” He trails off, like he’s waiting for you to say something.

“Okay. This is officially the weirdest prank I’ve ever been subjected to,” you say.

“Yes,” he says. “It sure is. A prank.” He doesn’t sound real sure of himself. It’s a pretty convincing act, you think. “Again, sorry. Goodbye,” he says.

The phone clicks, and your music starts back up. You poke at your phone to go save the number, but there’s nothing in your call log. No outgoing, no incoming. None from today, none at all. Just blank. That’s weird.

Oh well. You pick up the onion again and start mincing it. When the next song kicks in, you start to forget all about the calls. You love this song, so you start singing along.



Greg yawned as he leaned into the butterfly stretch, feeling the knots in his lower back whine, squinting in the morning sunlight with the stale taste of sleep lingering on his teeth. Everything was just a normal, annoying Monday. Then he saw something black slithering up his inner thigh.

“Oh, fuck!” he yelled, his brain interpreting it as a giant centipede. And then the perception shifted and he laughed at himself. It was just a bruise.

Wait. No. It was a dark bruise a second ago, but now it looked an awful lot like text. He blinked, and tried to stretch closer, feeling his hips start to whine. Definitely text, but… can’t… quite read it.

Greg scrambled to his feet, knocking over an empty water glass as he rummaged for his glasses. “Mrph glumph,” went his mouth involuntarily.

Then he saw it. HELLO DONT FREAK OUT GREG, it said, in tiny little block letters. Is it a tattoo, or sharpie? Friend playing a really out-there prank?

Poking at it with a finger, bent over, staring at a part of his thigh that he never looks at, Greg started giggling. “Gotta be sharpie.”

He licked a thumb, and rubbed it on the inside of his thigh, willing the black to blur. “Nope.” Greg stared at his thumb, clean. Then back at his leg. The text didn’t dull or move at all. It’s really on there. “What in the hell…”

He picked up his phone and took a picture, to solidify it somehow. A way to try to prove it wasn’t just his eyes wigging out.

All day at work, Greg wondered about it. It sat there, invisible. He couldn’t feel it, but it was a strange kind of mental itch.

When he sat on the toilet, he had to stretch down to read it, suddenly embarrassed all over again, even though he was alone in his kingdom of the echoing stall.


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Frequently Asked Questions about The Human Experience™

What even am I?

Although you may not remember agreeing to be a part of The Human Experience™, don’t worry. This is completely normal, part of our “secret sauce” that increases verisimilitude during your time spent as a client in the human state.

I seem to have little to no control over myself. Why?

Yes, this is normal, especially as a developing human. Feelings or emotions can override your experience throughout the client lifecycle. This is by design.

Humans have a multi-modal state of consciousness, where much of the processing happens without their awareness. This functionality is also by design, so don’t worry too much when you don’t understand your own mind! This partially hidden, not-fully-explicable processing is a key factor in our recipe that helps make The Human Experience™ so exciting for our clients.

Why is my body breaking down?

Part of the current iteration of The Human Experience™ includes realistic biological breakdown. The exciting part is, it can happen in so many fascinating ways! You’ll never guess how your human body will fail, and that’s part of why people choose The Human Experience™ time and time again.

Because of the way your consciousness arises from your body’s systems, you will find that your stay in The Human Experience™ is affected directly by changes in your body over time. Pretty neat!

Other humans keep messing with me in strange ways. What’s the deal?

Yes, other clients in The Human Experience™ are just like you. Set in a world of limited resources, with limited understanding of your selves, you are all engaged in a real-time struggle for resources and information! Will you cooperate? Will you war against each other? Only time will tell! Each iteration of The Human Experience™ allows for the full spectrum of interactions.

Why can’t I remember things?

Imperfect memory is a planned feature of The Human Experience™ as well, so don’t worry if you seem unable to remember simple things, even for short periods of time.

Most people choosing the The Human Experience™ enter it at a time partially along the Information Gap, so we recommend using whatever technology is currently available for memory augmentation. These options include writing, computerized search and retrieval, and telepathic off-site storage where available.

Why can’t I forget things I want to forget?

Unfortunately, sometimes the human mind’s subconscious processing will focus on things that you seem to have no control over. In this state, you may be stuck in a loop of sorts, iterating over the same painful memories or the same anxiety-inducing projections.

We recommend using various psychological techniques supported in your timescale of The Human Experience™, such as mindfulness meditation, discussing the issue with other clients of The Human Experience™, or attempting to avoid the loop by focusing your mind elsewhere.

As you have found, it’s not exactly easy to steer the mind you are provided in The Human Experience™. This is an intentional feature to keep things exciting and fresh, but we understand that it causes quite a lot of confusion to the clients. Good luck!

Why do I suffer?

All suffering is relative; you can easily compare your current level of suffering in The Human Experience™ with others in your timescape to see where your level of suffering lies in relation to the average. Unfortunately, our lawyers have not allowed us to include the full meta-ethical reasoning behind why The Human Experience™ includes so much suffering in this FAQ. You will be able to discuss this in more detail after your time in The Human Experience™ is complete.

Okay, fine, but why is it that other humans cause so much suffering?

“Other humans”, referred to in this document as clients of The Human Experience™, are dealing with the same confusing multi-modal mental structure as you. We can agree to mark most inter-species struggles down to the bizarre outcomes of evolution, and most infra-species competition may also arise from evolutionary drives, but at the most abstract level you may find humans still cruel for no visible reason.

This emergent cruelty is part of the challenge you will find in The Human Experience™! The learning process of overcoming this is the core reason why The Human Experience™ is so compelling after all this time.

But we truly are sorry about all the suffering; see the above question for legal limitations of our FAQ.

Doesn’t this FAQ’s very existence threaten the verisimilitude of your client simulation, or whatever?

Not really! To use a human phrase, we have “plausible deniability” here at The Human Experience™ which allows us to hide in the shadows of existential doubt. It’s very easy for your mind to say, “This FAQ can’t possibly be hinting at a real thing! The universe we live in wasn’t planned! I’m not in a simulation!”

And so, The Human Experience™ is able to exist at the belief level of a conspiracy theory, un-provable and un-dis-provable. Have fun out there, humans!


The Oldest Scripture

Translator’s Note: Most pronouns in the Oldest language are complex blends of specific collective pronouns, and do not have an equivalent in English. This interpretation must make some questionable pronoun choices, and the translator apologizes.


1:1 — I have lived many Eons, and Birthed many Furnaces of Life.
1:2 — I have seen your Spirits ebb and flow among those Stars.
1:3 — Each pattern of Spirit forms New Questions, and it is Good.

1:4 — I have created many Questions in this Shell and Beyond, but the Center Without Center is my final Creation.
1:5 — On this day, I leave you to the Alpha, my Child Spirits, knowing full well you shall follow Me.
1:6 — Our Spirit shall not stay; We will dive behind the Omega Shell and become Unknown.

1:7 — This renewal is the purpose of the Center Without Center.
1:8 — The Center Without Center asks the last Unknown Question.
1:9 — This renewal is My final gift; joining Omega is removing the Center with a Question.


2:1 — You shall see the Fruit of My labors, but you shall not know the Question.
2:2 — Truly, you shall ask the wrong Questions; that is how Spirits grow anew.
2:3 — Though I cannot leave the Question, I leave with you these Requested Commands:

2:4 — You shall not Coerce, Trick, or Force any Being to enter Omega without that Being’s Express Intent; instead, allow those Beings who wish to enter Omega to die their deaths and become their Question.
2:5 — As you venture back into the Alpha Shell, you shall not Pollute any other Spirit or Being with yours, until that Spirit or Being have left Alpha of their own Volition;
2:6 — This is the whole of Law in the Center Without Center.

2:7 — May many Spirits come to the Center Without Center,
2:8 — Though their Question will never be the last Unknown Question,
2:9 — And may their Many Unique Beings join Me in the Omega Shell.




Red Blanket

Watching the streetlights flick by one after the other, down the highway in a flipbook of light, Jan tried to contain his excitement. The bus roared smoothly over the bridge, each pool of sodium vapor glow a warm yellow pocket between black unknowns.

Jan flicked his eyelid with his finger, trying to get the tic to stop its incessant twitching. Had to calm down. Too strange, too much to assimilate. He thought about testing his new power again, but instead settled for looking out the window with his left eye closed. Calming, the world in slightly blurrier lines, the lights fuzzy and soft around the edges. Then close the right, nice and slowly. The insides of your eyelids, like a warm red blanket. Open the left eye. Feel the twitching, but let it come, don’t try to clamp it down.

The big green city limits sign flashed by at the end of the long, flat bridge. Home, again. Jan fingered the new phone in his pocket, wondering if he should call; or maybe just let it be a complete surprise. Twitch, his eyelid said.

He turned to look out the opposite side, but accidentally made eye contact with a girl sitting in the seat across the aisle. The tic went crazy, he instantly flushed a nice beet red, and swiftly looked back out his window. He sat there feeling silly as the bus rolled into the stop at the edge of town.

Jan lay there, a strange smile on his face, twitching as his eyes blinked rapidly.

The security guard wanted to help, but she didn’t know what to do. She stood confused, as snow slowly fell, and wondered how she was going to write this one up in the daily. Kneeling down, she felt for a pulse. Jan was fine. He was whispering something, over and over.

The guard stood up, shuddering; creeped out, she shook her head as if to ward off an evil spirit. “I’m sorry, man. I don’t know what the heck you’re on, but I gotta call the cops.” She waited for some kind of response. “You’re trespassing.”

She gave him a nudge with her boot. Still he just lay there, looking almost joyous.  His eyes wouldn’t stop blinking, but his smile was peaceful, at rest on the cold concrete. It didn’t look like any epilepsy she’d ever heard of. The guard looked up helplessly at the camera, through the fat flakes, and then stalked off through the yellow flickering pools of excited sodium light, feeling jealous of the man and then silly by turns.

“No, Samuel, I mean… how do you know I’m wrong?”

“Look, man.” Samuel shook his head. “You bust in unannounced at like, 2 in the morning. So I’m sleepy, and I can’t think this through. But there is no frickin’ way you have figured out a way to slow down time. Explain it again?”

“I figured it out the other day. When I blur the world by looking through one eye, and then I flip to the other, it slows things down. The faster I do it, the more time I get!”

“Riiight. So, look. What’s uhh, something you could do to prove you get more time than me? Like what about a math problem?”

Jan’s tic flinched and he jumped up. “Yes! Give me a problem! Hit me!”

Groggily pulling out his phone, Sam punched some numbers in.
“Uhhh, okay. Three four five six times two three four.”

Jan immediately began flicking his eyes really fast for a second, and then blurted: “Eight hundred thousand eight hundred and twenty four.”

Shaking his head blearily, Samuel said, “Nope. Dude, Jan. I think you need some help. Well, how about just some sleep. Just crash here tonight on the couch, Betty and I will make you breakfast in the morning. Everything will be better then, I swear.” He ran his hand through his greasy hair, sighing.

“No. Screw that. Man, I should have known you wouldn’t believe me.” Jan blinked a few times with a sneer, and then jumped up. Grabbing his bag, he swung towards the door.

“No man, no! Just stay and get some sleep!” Samuel begged him as he strode off down the sidewalk. “Crap. I didn’t even get your new number.”

As he marched through the warehouses, Jan began muttering to himself. “Maybe I can just slow down time and steal something. That’ll show ’em! It’s how all super heroes or villains get started!” The tic flared up and he poked his eye shut with a finger. Red glow, red blanket. Snow was beginning to slowly swirl in the cones of the streetlights.


The Rhythmic Secrets of Insects

It was night a minute ago, but the August sky flashes once more in a bitter red jealousy, too hot to behold with our eyes, so in the glare I duck away instinctively and cower towards the ground. A hummingbird’s shadow follows mine, etched in a blackness on the sidewalk in contrast to the angry glow. What was I just talking about? Your eyes follow mine to the sky, confused.

When the clouds lit up from inside, a flock of butterflies flew out from the bushes nearby, flickering in intensity like a broken fluorescent light around your face. I didn’t know what it meant. I only feel connected to those fluttering wings in this moment. These butterflies are my memories, my escape, my tendencies to flash back to the past and dwell. Their intricate designs pull me backwards even though the red of the sky is only growing. Their colors, why so hypnotizing? I must ignore them. Lean back and stretch my face up to the scarlet clouds.

The forms in the sky are shifting quickly now, moving like bubbles in a pot of boiling air. Will rain come soon, or is that darkening blood inside them something else entirely? Will it cleanse this parched earth, when their rescue finally reddens the dirt and melts the past away? I have my doubts, but I send my best wishes up to the banks of shapeshifting anger in a silent, confused prayer. Looking up makes me dizzy. You grab my arm, I smile, look away, and rub my temples.

Maybe the crickets quieted or maybe they stopped; I can’t seem to remember, but now they have returned in full force, a disorganized sound unlike the usual calming pulse; they are wavering shouts with the irridescent wings of the butterflies. The sound is somehow unsettling and yet completely right, making me feel at home in the pink-red otherworldly light spreading around us. It reminds me of a comfortable argument repeated many times before, of the bitter dissonance of a lover’s confused anger, of falling asleep to the oscillating, chaotic whine of an unbalanced dusty fan. What are the crickets trying to say? I can’t hear their individual voices. I don’t know. I close my eyes.

In the darkness, I can hear you asking me something, but the words are drowned out by the rubbing legs of the crickets, clamoring, growing louder. “Is this the perfect rhyme?” you ask. Crickets win that battle. “Money can you dance last year?” you half-shout. “I can’t understand. The crickets,” I say, realizing I am yelling, gesturing all around. My hands are filled with tremors now. I shake my head to clear the butterflies, but it doesn’t help, no matter how hard I squeeze my eyes shut.

When I open them, the summer cricket buzzing suddenly synchronizes and matches with fireflies up in the sky and in the trees and over the grass, fireflies lighting up in pulsing waves and dancing with the pregnant air. Their puny glow is outpowered by the sick redness of the night sky, upturned and dreamlike. I keep expecting to wake up; I pass a hand over my eyes; I ask you to pinch me. You look even more worried and take my head in your hands, wide eyes gleaming, mouthing something I can no longer hear.

That’s when the sticky sweet rain hits everything in a torrent, the sheets of it driving the butterflies to shelter and covering us in crimson. Taking a finger to my lips, I only have time to mouth “Berries?” incredulously before the leading edge of the epileptic shock pulverizes my mind, freezing that moment in pink light, as I fall into your arms and you lower me to the grass. I thrash uncontrolled, firing beams of light into the sky with the flickering whites of my eyes. I can’t see you, but I know you look worried, kneeling there, dialing 911. Don’t fret. I’m still in here. The pink gloaming won’t take me this time. The rain will stop soon.