|He sat on the dingy, blue couch, constantly checking his watch. Two minutes, in two minutes it would open. In two minutes, his dreams would come true.
It had been the same routine every night for the past three months. He would get home from work, try to scavenge enough things together in the kitchen to cook a meal, go for a jog, and then anxiously await the opening. At eleven o’clock sharp, the portal would open.
It all started one night when he was sitting in his living room watching his nightly dose of cable television sitcoms that had been funny only maybe a decade ago. He had been bored that night and was tired of the washed up shows that were playing, so he began to dig around in the back of his entertainment cabinet. He knew there were some old DVD’s back there that could occupy him for an hour or so before it was time to head to bed.
That night, as he was searching through a pile of discs and cassettes that no one even watched anymore, much less knew existed, he witnessed the portal opening for the first time. Half of his body was inside the entertainment cabinet that had been built into the wall long before he had moved in. Suddenly a blue light illuminated the back wall of the cabinet. He was astonished by it, and when he moved to touch the light, he felt his body being sucked into what he eventually saw was a tiny hole in the somewhat ancient rear wall.
That first night, he experienced nearly everything that he had always dreamed of experiencing. For that night, he was a celebrity dining and partying at Hollywood’s hottest A-list clubs with the likes of Katy Perry, Rihanna, and several NBA stars. For that night, he was a star.
When he was again in his usual apartment, the clock had just struck midnight and he was lying in front of his entertainment cabinet with DVD’s and VHS’s lying all around him. He was confused at what had just occurred. Had he somehow fallen asleep and been dreaming his experience? There was no way; it was too real. It felt too real to just be a dream, plus, he remembered every single piece of it. Most of his dreams were accompanied with haziness upon awakening, an inability to piece the entire story together. This was different.
Completely astonished and befuddled by what had just occurred, he collapsed on his couch and eventually fell asleep. The next day, he received a phone call on his cell while he was walking back to the office after taking his lunch break. The call was from an unknown number, and as soon as he answered it, a voice told him not to hang up. The voice then spent the next five minutes explaining the experience that he had just occurred.
The voice on the phone told him of the person that had rented the apartment before him. Evidently, the past habitant had been a physicist at a government research facility where he had been working on a virtual reality project for the government called Project Portal. The government wished to create a virtual environment where it could train soldiers and test new battlefield weapons without the risk that accompanies such training missions and testing. The physicist was piecing together the method by which these so called “portals” would work when he went rogue.
One night while working in his lab, he realized for what purpose he was working towards. He was working so hard so that there could be more war and violence in an already unsettling and violent world. He decided not to contribute to such an effort and began destroying all of the files that he had kept and all of the research that he had obtained. He rushed to his home, gathered his valuable things and caught the first flight out of Washington. He arrived in New York City in the early morning hours and quickly found an apartment to rent. It was the same apartment that the man was renting now. He spent several weeks installing one of his invented portals in his home, but he did not program it in the same way that he programmed the ones that he was working on for the government. Instead of pre-programmed battlefields, he programmed the portal to act as a method for realizing and living the dreams that everyone internally stores. He programmed the portal to open every night at eleven o’clock. For a small fee, twenty dollars, the person or people present at the time of its opening could enter the portal and live whatever scenario that they had in their mind at the time of entering. The experience would last twenty four hours in the virtual world, but upon reappearing in the apartment, only one hour would have passed. The physicist eventually died from a heart attack, and his apartment was remodeled and rented out to the man.
The voice on the phone finally identified himself as an old friend of the physicist who used to use the portal when the physicist was either too busy or simply did not want to. The man now living in the apartment asked why he did not have to pay the twenty dollar entrance fee last night before entering the portal. The voice on the phone replied, “The first time is always free.”
Eleven o’clock; it was time to go. The man opened the entertainment center doors and climbed in. He placed a crisp twenty dollar bill by the place where the portal was and waited. A mechanical arm protruded from the wall and grabbed hold of the bill. It withdrew the money into the hole that housed the arm, and the blue light illuminated the surroundings. The man extended his hand towards the light again, and began to feel his body sucked towards the wall. All that went through his mind was football, star quarterback, Super Bowl, and cheerleaders.
One hour later, he came to again lying on the floor outside of the entertainment center. That experience might have been the best one yet. It was definitely the best one that he had had in a long time. He had just led his team to a Super Bowl win on the final drive, and he had a wonderful night with a cheerleader afterwards. He knew that finding the portal was the best thing that had ever happened to him. He moved to the couch and fell asleep, completely content with the experience that he had just had.
His nightly routine continued for several months. Mostly every night he would enter the portal and live out some fantasy that he had dreamed about ever since he was a child. He had experienced everything from fighting in the Revolutionary War to landing on the moon. Every night he imagined some new life to live.
One day, he awoke to someone banging at his door. He climbed out of bed, threw on a robe, and hustled to see who it was that wanted him so early. Upon opening the door, he saw his landlord standing in the hallway. The landlord notified him that he had not paid his rent the previous week when it was due. The man was astonished. He had forgotten all about the rent. He rushed to his wallet and withdrew the money that he owed. His bills were paid, and the land lord was satisfied. Afterwards, the man took his shower, ate his breakfast, and marched off to work.
That night, as he was lying on his couch around ten o’clock, he realized that he did not have any cash to pay for his portal entry that night. He checked his bank account, but saw that he only had a hundred dollars in his account. He knew that he shouldn’t go withdraw any money. He would be paid soon. It would not be smart to spend another twenty dollars on the portal when he was running so low on money.
The closer it got to eleven o’clock, the more anxious the man got. What was he going to do? Every night he entered that portal. It would be extremely different to take a break for a night. He had to though. He had spent too much money to live out these dreams.
The man succeeded in fighting off the urge to enter the portal that night, but when the next night rolled around, he was not as strong. Earlier that day, he had a great idea for a dream to live out while in the portal, so before he went home for the night, he stopped by the ATM and withdrew twenty dollars. He thought another twenty dollars wouldn’t be so bad; payday was coming soon. That night, he had the best experience that he had had by far in his virtual reality world. He was so happy when his time was up that he lay in the floor of his apartment and relived his experience over and over in his mind.
He couldn’t stay away from the portal. He would refrain from paying for entrance for a night or two in a row, but the next time he entered was always the best experience that he had. It was as if staying away from the virtual world caused the next experience to be amazing. However, he simply could not stay away.
Weeks later, the man found that he only had twenty dollars in his bank account. It was still several days until payday, but he couldn’t skip out on the portal for more than two days in a row. Anyway, it was not like twenty dollars was going to last him several days either. He couldn’t borrow money. His credit score was worse than anyone’s he knew. No one was going to loan him money, and he felt uncomfortable asking friends.
That night when he got home, he made the decision. It would be much easier to concentrate on finding a method of survival until his paycheck came if he experienced one more trip into the portal. That night, he spent the only money that he had in his name to take a trip into his dream land. That night, he experienced twenty four hours in the life of the President of the United States. The experience completely amazed him, and he could not think of anything else for hours after exiting the portal.
The next morning, he awoke to the reality that he had no money. It was still six days until he could cash his paycheck, and he had no money. Again, there was a knock at the door. He had forgotten his rent again. He panicked. He had no way to pay his land lord. He tried to remain quiet, hoping that the land lord would go away. After several minutes, the knocking ceased.
After three days of dodging his landlord and avoiding the relentless knocking at his door every morning, the man found an eviction notice tacked to his front door. At this point, he had spent four days without entering the portal, and his mind was a complete wreck. He could not function at work, and when he got home for the night, all he could do was lie on the couch and fight the need to enter the portal. When the clock struck eleven, he would climb into the entertainment center and stare at the blue illuminating light on the wall. He would touch the light, but no matter how hard he tried, he could not enter. He would then lie on the floor and weep for hours.
After spending all of his money to actualize his internal dreams, the man could not live in reality. He could not face each day knowing that his life was not a dream, but instead, it was an incessant routine that never ended, never ceased. His life was a circle, a record on endless repeat. When his ability to live his dreams was taken away from him, his ability to live was taken away from him as well. He had spent every dollar to his name to spend one hour a night in another world, a world that was not the one that he had to live in for the other twenty three hours of the day. However, in the end this virtual world led to a worse real world. After being evicted, the man spent several nights dropping in and out of friend’s homes, passing out on couches wherever he could. He tried to go back to his apartment, to break in to live in the portal for one more time, but a new tenant was living there. He approached the new resident’s door one day to ask about the portal, but the man now living in the apartment shooed him away and threatened to call the police.
Life was unbearable. He quit his job, quit talking to those around him, and eventually drifted into a state of deep depression. One night, the man climbed onto the ledge of the bridge overlooking the river and thought about where his life had taken him. He could think of nothing that made him happy, except the portal. He laid twenty dollars down on the edge of the bridge, and he jumped.