Author: Bridger Cummings

She walked along the path in the forest glade. Idyllic, towering trees of various species lined the wide path like a gauntlet all the traffic flowed between. Mossy rocks dotted the sides of the leaf-blanketed path. She walked amidst a herd of animals: elk, ostriches, gorillas, and even bears on two legs. They all shuffled along while a stream of bigger animals ran by to her left. A stampede of rhinos, horses, bison, and elephants ran in one direction, rushing past her. Curiously, another stampede of similar animals ran in the opposite direction just past them, creating two rivers of animals running parallel against each other. Beyond the dual stampedes, another thin herd of elk and ostriches and other various animals milled before the thick trees with the ruins of crumbling stone walls obscured in the shadows.

She stopped to look around and smile. The animals snorted and huffed while the buzzing of insects filled in any moments of otherwise silence. All the animals walked by each other in peace, and she couldn’t stop from smiling at the harmony. But the smell was off: diesel and gasoline fumes, sewage, and the general mustiness of civilization. It clashed with what her eyes and ears experienced. She sighed and looked up at the blue sky dotted with marshmallow clouds. Her face twitched; something unseen pecked her face.

The green number in the corner of her vision was harder to ignore against the blue backdrop. It ticked down intimately close to zero. She closed her eyes at “one” and waited a few seconds before opening them. But the illusion had already shattered. The sounds of wildlife and rustling leaves were replaced with cars, people talking, and the buzz of a city that permits no silence.

Her eyes opened, and a sheen of gray clouds releasing a light drizzle replaced the blue sky. Her face twitched with each splat. She looked at the road and her shoulders slumped at her true reality when she ran out of credits. An ugly city, lined with concrete buildings and trash in the street that honking cars inhabited. Some rushed people frowned deeply as they marched by, but most wore similar AR googles on that she wore, and most of them looked drunk-happy as they ambled down the street in a reality of their choosing.

Only one way to easily get more credits; she waved her arms in front of her, moving around some digital menus only she could see. She activated the advertising layer, and every possible surface became a billboard. Every other person became NASCAR drivers of ads, and suggestions on which product would make her the most beautiful whispered in her ear. She tried to ignore it all as the green counter in the corner of her vision started counting up, and she continued her commute to work, eager to afford another visit in her forest.