The sun’s shining right beside me. It’s lighting up a leaf on the ground outside…

I dreamt I just kept swinging my hockey stick at people’s necks. It was weird. I wanted to say hello and speak to some of them, but I’d end up swinging my hockey stick at them. Later, still in the dream, I realized we were all in a big therapy session, me and fifteen other boys, and some of us had hockey sticks, but others had nothing. They just talked. The instructor came in and one of the boys with a hockey stick complained to him about only being able to hit people. But I mean, he wasn’t really able to express himself, he just started hitting the instructor with his stick, and the guy vaporized him. It was a fucked-up dream.

It’s nice to walk outside on a cool morning. Look at all the autumn red leaves and the deep blue sky…

After the instructor vaporized, I mean placed on Time Out, the boy in my therapy session, he started pairing the rest of us off. The pairings didn’t have a discernible logic: boys who had hockey sticks typically got paired with passives, but some passives got paired with other passives, and those of us left (there were more with than without), we were paired with each other.

We were told to hit those in the passive role. Every time we swung our hockey sticks at their necks, their visors would flash with EXP points. For anyone passive the object of the exercise was to get enough EXPs to level up to Emotional Stability. But what didn‘t make sense was that swinging hockey sticks at other boys with hockey sticks got the same number of EXPs. We frankly got more because we could hit each other without experiencing the like hesitation of hitting boys unable to hit back.

To make it even weirder, or cruel, the passives paired with passives earned no points. Time Out boys had it worst though; they watched the exercise on a screen from outside the simulation and couldn’t speak to anyone, only like the instructors, and they had no idea when they were going to be allowed back in the group.

What makes dried brown leaves cling to tall oak trees in the blowing wind? It’s unnaturally beautiful. C’mon just fall leaves. Fall and winter will come. Haul space heaters out of storage closets. Duck down and plug them in. Truckerbutt…

I swung my hockey stick fifty times until my visor flashed Emotional Stability and happily I got vaporized into the break room. Other boys arrived at the same time but weren’t from my group. MR instructor had warned us before the session don’t mix groups, so I just watched the screen until the exercise was over. Soon everyone was in the break room. MR instructor was the last one to vape himself in. He put the results on the screen. Most boys in the hockey stick section were at Emotional Stability or like really close to levelling up.

Jared, my friend, talks a lot about how trees look under a green sky, about the way the light looks in late summer. His word for it is serotinal. Jared is probably still a virgin…

MR instructor came in from the briefing room. He told us that we were starting a new simulation in its beta phase called Camp Run®. They paired us off again. Passive boys were put beside aggressive boys. We were going to be tethered to each other for a like simulated hike in the woods. MR instructor said that passives would be responsible for carrying a 60-pound pack and tent. One pack for each pair. Aggressives were given nothing to carry.

The primary lesson was to remain patient with pack holders and not yank the tether. Anyone pulling the tether would be placed on Time Out. Again, our objective was Emotional Stability. Our visors would flash ESG once we got enough EXPs to level up. The only way to do that was by working as a unit.

At the end of the briefing, M, MR instructor’s wife, came in from the briefing room carrying a tray with mugs of tea. She must have been watching us through the two-way glass in the Observation Room because she made eye contact with MR instructor nodding towards Brian—Brian who had recently re-entered the group after being on Time Out. MR instructor added between sips of tea:

That reminds me: any students Timed Out will be placed on Over-Work Protocol.

I love the look of the sky even in simulation. The perfect clouds, the near-perfect temperature, sometimes made hot by instructors in the control sequence to calibrate aggression readers. I just pump my legs on these hiking simulations, watching the sky.

Things got fucked-up when Brian pushed Jared off a rope bridge. He must have forgot they were tethered to each other. Jared went over quite unexpectedly, pack and all, then a moment later Brian flew off with a loud shhiiiiiitttttt! Their bodies dashed on some jagged rocks below us that were like simulated perfectly.

The messed-up thing was that the instructors took a really long time to walk down the river to get close enough to time them out. The rest of us stood on the bridge, above their bodies, swinging in the simulated breeze, watching their delicately floating corpses, thinking holy shit right now they must be like writhing in pain in the break room or whatever, feeling the like simulated feelings of what it feels like to be dead this whole time only not.

The instructors moved us on after that. Brian and Jared got in so much trouble. We made it to our campsite and there was no water in the reservoir. Weird.

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JEAN MCLARNEY is a Canadian writer, performer, and liar; studied creative writing at the University of Windsor; and, is an amateur baker living in Yellowknife.