The yellow sand stretched on further than Shane’s eyes could see. His mouth was dry, skin burnt, and for whatever reason he could not remember exactly how he ended up on the back of a camel in the middle of the Sahara Desert. Despite feeling some faint recollection of a long plain ride and an even longer ride in a bus laden heavily with B.O., Shane could not recall any specific memories or details. From somewhere far beyond the golden dunes, a voice thundered across the sky…
“Pretty neat, huh?”
And then, all at once, like a swift jab to the diaphragm, Shane found himself sitting in Mason’s bedroom. He was rendered speechless. How could that entire experience have been instilled in his brain by a computer? It was all too real; he felt the hot wind on his face, his dry lips cracking, and such a real thirst for water. Even more baffling to Shane was not the fact that he had just experienced the most incredible virtual reality simulation on the planet, but that it was designed by his friend Mason. The first friend Shane made when he first moved to Huntington Beach. The kid who sat inside and read books and played computer games while the other kids played in the streets. The guy who worked on computers while other guys worked on cars.
At a complete loss of words, Shane couldn’t help but stare wide eyed at his friend Mason, his mind racing with possibilities and potential for his friend’s new invention.
I hadn’t seen Mason in over a week. Not that his absence from school was TOTALLY unusual, in fact, it was common for Mason to go AWOL for days at a time following the release of whatever video game it was he was excited for that year. Hell, it may have even been 10 days when World of Warcraft came out back in 2004.
No, it wasn’t his prolonged absence that concerned me, it was the fact that Mason had decided to play his little game of hooky during finals week. No matter how long Mason stayed away from school, he never missed a test. However, in the past week Mason has successfully managed to fail his senior year of high school by not showing up for a single one of his finals.
At that moment every other student in the school stood like Pavlovian dogs, eyes glued to the clocks in the front of the classrooms, waiting for the bell that would set them free from the “prison” otherwise known as Huntington Beach High School, counting down the seconds.
I know I should have been more excited, I mean I was only 8.5 seconds away from graduating high school after all.
But as I sat and looked at the empty desk next to me, I couldn’t help but worry for my friend.
The school seemed to tremble at the force of the roar of a thousand students being let out for summer vacation. I really didn’t notice the raucous being caused in the halls, my best friend had just voluntarily thrown away an academic scholarship to Stanford University and maybe his entire future, and I had no idea why. As I pushed my way past the hoard of anxious teen angst I thought to myself, “Whatever it is Mason, it better be fucking worth it.”
It was only a short walk from the high school to Mason’s house, and I didn’t mind it either, not only because Mason was my best friend but also because he happened to live on Pacific Coast Highway, in a three-story, double wide mansion overlooking the ocean. It was one of those houses that could be found on the front cover of any real estate magazine, some real high society shit. At first, I was hesitant to ring the doorbell. Despite walking to his house, I still had not actually been able to get ahold of Mason, and I knew how he reacts when someone distracts him while “in the zone”. If he did not want me to be at his house, this wasn’t going to end well. After, three more unanswered phone calls I rang the doorbell. It took multiple rings of the bell and about two minutes before anybody cared to answer the door.
My cheeks flushed red with blood before I could manage any words. Standing there in front of me was Mason’s sister, Michaela, the girl I have had a crush on for a majority of my life. “Hey Mickey!” I was finally able to let out. I noticed her eyes hadn’t left the screen of her iPhone. I took full advantage of the opportunity by just looking at her for a few seconds. Her blonde hair, her green eyes, my heart fluttered.
“I go by Mick now,” she said, entirely unnerved by my obvious staring, “Mason is in his room…. click click click click” Her voice was being drowned out by the sounds her phone made every time she pressed one of the keys on the keypad. For being infatuated with this girl since I first became friends with Mason, I can’t believe she’s never seemed to notice.
There was nothing I could have done to prepare myself for the events that followed…