I wake up and I can barely remember my dream. All I feel is softness. Softness all around me. Soft sheets and soft blankets and soft light. I take a moment to just gaze at my room. And then I pull myself up from my bed and go to brush my teeth.
The bathrooms are made of granite, with granite sink bowls and granite taps and granite walls. It's calming. There are mirrors everywhere, even on the ceiling. On some of the mirrors are painted soothing scenes in expensive paint. There are little vases of flowers everywhere. The whole place smells like flowers.
I go to the cafeteria and I wander around all the tables, looking down around me and up at the ceiling. Around me the room slowly becomes occupied with teenaged girls. We make small talk. Mostly about our day yesterday. About our plans for all the things we bought.
Breakfast arrives and with it so does Lydia. The pattern is falling into place. The new pattern of our lives. The pattern that will be our lives for the next three months. Whether we want it to be or not. But no matter, of course we want it.
"Good morning girls. Did you all sleep well? I hope you slept well."
"We did," we reply in unison. Did I sleep well? I don't know. No matter I probably slept well. How could you not sleep well on such a smooth, soft bed?
"Are you all ready to start your day?" Her voice is bright.
"Yes," We reply in equally bright tones. But is there .. is there something full about our tones? Something dreary? No matter, I must be imagining it.
Lydia explains the plan for the day as we all listen quietly, looking at the forms that drape down from the roof. She is excited and happy about all we are planning to do. Of course she is. Why wouldn't she be? Why wouldn't we all be?
We are going to an immersive game today, and we will eat breakfast and launch at a fine upscale restaurant. This is going to be so fun. I haven't gone to an immersive game in years. I almost forgot how fun they were. And I'll get to play with all of my friends as well. This will be such a great opportunity to spend time with them. And I haven't been to a restaurant in ages as well. I bet the food is going to taste so amazingly good.
We chat excitedly as we finish our breakfast. Breakfast is fluffy, light chocolate chip pancakes that melt in your mouth, soaked through with rich, sweet maple syrup and lathered with butter. It's delicious. And there is a chocolate and red velvet cheesecake for dessert. It's all so sweet. And the chatter of our conversation is also so sweet. I go to brush my teeth after breakfast, with mint and ice toothpaste that tastes so refreshing.
I comb through my closet. Maggie bought me a bunch of stuff. She looked at the clothes in the stores and couldn't resist thinking about me. I have so many more clothes now that we got the chance to go shopping. I have so much more choice. And oh what bright and beautiful choices these are. Such bright and beautiful outfits to choose from.
I pick a silken dress that is made of thick fabric and goes down to my knees. It's made of swirling baby pink, creme, and light blue patterns. The light blue is the shade of cornflowers. Embroidered onto the front with shimmering copper threads is the form of a cherry tree and many three-dimensional petals are sown onto its branches. I put on a pair of high-heels that match and are surprisingly comfortable on my feet. I put on a fine silver chain with light pink and cornflower blue gems threaded through it and a charm bracet with many beautiful charms.
I do my makeup in front of the mirror. First I drown everything in a layer of foundation. Then I contour with highlight and bronzer. Then I add light pink blush. I paint my eyebrows a glittering light blue and I paint my lips a soft pastel pink. It's beautiful. I look beautiful.
I put on earrings, and an anklet that matches my bracelet. Finally I am ready.
Maggie is also dressed beautifully. She wears a light yellow taffeta blouse with a green and bright purple poppy arching and bending to the side. She wears light purple denim pants that are threaded through with golden thread to form a candy-cane pattern of thin gold lines. Her blouse is tucked into her pants and her collar has a bow on it, so do her short sleeves. She looks breathtaking. I tell her so.
We walk together, arm in arm, down the grand hallway lined with beautiful things. We meet the others in the large, green, neatly-manicured courtyard, that is filled with shaped hedges and bubbling fountains and flower beds and exotic birds with clipped wings. It's beautiful out here.
Aisha and Cara are sitting on a large, ornately carved picnic table with the smoothest surface I have seen in my life. I go to join them. And we chatter about our day. About the outfits we picked out and why we chose them. About how long it's been since we went to an immersive game. About how we can't wait to go to the game. About what we wonder that the game will be about.
I smell orange trees, and lemon trees, and lilacs and lavender and hyacinth and jasmine. I could get lost in this. I could drift away in it forever. I could live here out in the courtyard forever.
Lydia eventually comes down, wearing a golden gown that drapes down to her ankles in flowing folds. The dress hugs her waist tight, and there are many golden bows on her collar. She wears shimmering golden eyeshadow. All of her seems to be shimmering. She seems to bloom, a dark and shining flower.
She tells us that it's time to go. And we all file towards the many cars in the garage.
This time I sit with Brigely and Nocta, all round our central table. The car sways and music flows through our ears. We make jokes and sing along with the songs on the radio. We paint each other's nails with the bright red nail polish that Nocta smuggled in through her pocket. It's such a bright colour. It doesn't go with my outfit but it looks well nonetheless. Laughter fills the air. The wind blows through our hair. It's perfect. All perfect.
We get to the immersive game theatre. And it's a huge, arching building with many big pillars and a shining glass front. It's big, the theatre's big. But of course it's big. The big rooms inside make the holographic games feel even more realistic.
We file in through the crystal revolving door. And we look at all the large screens offering different advertisements for different games. There must be thousands of them. I am completely overwhelmed. I have no idea how we'll choose.
"Look through the different adds, girls." Lydia's voice is high and lilting, like molten silver. "We're all going to vote on what to play in twenty minutes."
"Yes, Ms. Lydia," we all chime back, snd it's almost like a song, the sound of all of our voices together.
I get on a hover pad and fly to many different game displays. There are games about space, about going on voyages through the stars. There are games about beautiful historical events filled with castles and masked balls and roses growing throughout the countryside. There are games about fantastical worlds full of monsters and creatures. There are games about magic with floating objects and sparking energy balls and bright magical battles. There are games about underwater exploration. Games about creating your own world. The list truly is endless.
I have no idea how I will pick. Every single thing seems so good. I remind myself that I don't have to pick. I can just be satisfied looking through all the adds and letting my imagination run wild. My friends can pick for me. Unless of course they have happened upon the same predicament and also can't pick.
And so I fly around, looking at each and every screen that I can. They all seem to pop. And I find that it's almost a game in and of itself, to see how many advertisements I can look at.
Eventually the twenty minutes are up and we all gather together under the huge glass wall that lets us see outside, that the sunlight comes streaming through. We discuss what we want to play. Zeinab wants to play a game about rising to the top in the courts of Ghengis Khan. Delores wants to play a game about discovering new creatures on alien planets. Valentina wants to play a game about exploring the depths of the sea. Lumina wants to play a game about living in a magical world. Ishani wants to play a game about meeting and dancing with princes in the olden times. Nora wants to play a game about fighting monsters.
We all take a vote. And Lydia counts up all the hands. Lumina's game wins by two hands. And the majority of us sigh but we are bright about it. We will have fun no matter what game we play, and this game sounds beautiful and relaxing.
So we all make our way to the large, gaping arena with high ceilings and we spread ourselves out as the arena fills with fog and the holographic images are spun to life.
The world is so beautiful. It's like a work of art.
The sky is deep and it is painted in dipping and waving stripes of every shade of blue imaginable. The sky is constantly changing and across it soar fluffy white clouds in many swirling and curving shades of white. There are colourful birds flying every which way. There are colourful insects bussing around us. It all softly shimmers.
The ground is also breathtaking, with large, thick blades of grass of so many different shades of green all curling up from the dirt. The grass curls and weaves into each other and blows in the wind. There are infinite colours of wildflowers with sparkling petals growing in everywhich direction.
Trees tower all around us, with trunks of shimmering bronze and leaves of purple and pink and orange. The trees are filled with gems in the shape of apples. All along them run squirrels and chipmunks and monkeys.
The world smells like thousands of rich, fragrant flowers of different types, all mingling together. Underneath that smell is the smell of freshly cut grass. And underneath that smell is the smell of something bright and spicy, something I can't quite place.
The bright music of different bird calls all weave together to form a background melody. Though I don't think these are the calls of real birds. They sound too perfect, too harmonious, too well-matched with the other calls. They sound almost-real. Definitely. But they definitely don't sound real.
The grass doesn't look real, the sky doesn't look real, the flowers don't look real, the clouds don't look real, the animals don't look real.
A deep feeling of dread courses through me and I feel a scream rising up in my throat.
Just then a voice comes up from all around, light and soft and melodic. I get lost in the unearthly richness of its chime. I forget all about my fear. I forget all about the wrongness all around me. I forget everything except this bright, shining beauty.
"It's time to gather the gem-fruits so that we can make our delicious gem-fruit pie! Go into the cottage and gather the fruits basket and the bow and arrows!"
I turn around, looking for the cottage. And it's right there behind me. And it's so unbelievably beautiful! With notched beams made of all types of brown colours all melting into each other and contrasting. The cottage walls are carved with all sorts of patterns. And the whole thing softly glows. The roof and the windows are shingled with different shades of red, are softly shimmering. And the door is bright red with a shining gold handle and a shining gold door knocker. There are birds carved onto its front.
Clara and I both go into this cottage. I guess she heard the same voice I did.
"Are you looking for the basket and the bow?" I ask her.
"Uh-huh. I sure am!" she replies brightly "We should look together."
And so we swing open the door.
The inside of the cottage is filled with so many things, hanging on the walls or arranged on the many many shelves or arranged on the floor. It's even prettier inside than it is on the outside. Every piece of wood inside is carved with a different, beautiful pattern and there are large windows with colour-changing curtains of every shade of yellow and gold mixed together. The couches are bright and embroidered with shimmering, rainbow thread. There are paintings on the wall that almost look like windows into other worlds. And there is just so much to look at everywhere.
We walk through the many rooms trying to find what we need. The cottage impresses itself onto us. And it impresses us. We talk about how lovely everything is.
Finally we find the basket, a large thing made of woven strips of orange, strips of different shades. It shimmers and glows and when I pick it up it casts an orange glow onto my body. The basket is large, almost as deep as my legs are tall and hard to get my arms fully around. Thankfully it has handles. The bow we find next. It is a shining gold, with silver arrows tipped with deep blue sapphire and fletched with dark blue feathers that shine like sapphire. It is light and slopong and elegant, curving softly like painted lips.
We go outside, and get to work gathering the gem-fruits. First Clara takes aim at the fruits with the bow and arrow and I run around under the trees trying to catch any apples she manages to hit and send dropping down. Then I take a turn aiming for the fruits and Clara takes a turn catching them. Soon our basket is full.
"Good job, girls!" The voice rings out. "Now it's time to catch the rain! Go find the rain barrels. Only catch blue and silver drops. Black and purple drops are poisoned, and they will spoil your whole barrel!"
We go inside the cottage again and look for the rain barrels. They are made of light blue crystal and are softly see-through. We go outside and instead of different shades of waving and weaving and rising and falling blue, the sky is made of different strips of silver-white-gray.
The rain starts falling, big, thick drops spaced fairly far apart, nothing like real rain of any sort. We run around madly, trying to catch the right drops and avoid the right drops. It's all so very fun.
After we have our barrels filled with good, pure water it's time to go into the forest. We follow the directions the voice gives us and find ourselves in a world of crowded colours and twisting, bending, spiralling branches and little animals running every which way. The ground is a deep, glowing red and there are strange leaves all around us. Leaves with edges that are traced darker than their middles. Leaves in fantastical shapes.
We dig through the forest, climbing hills and valleys, until we find the right ingredients for the pies. Bags stuffed with roots and berries and herbs, all in brilliant technicolour, we return.
And then it's time to bake the pies. We walk down the twisting path made of many round stones embedded into the ground, stones that look like glass and are deeply translucent. We bring the fruits and the water and everything else we gathered.
We take the light pink flour and pour it onto the countertops. We say the right spells and incantations and magic swirls all around us, turning the the ingredients into pies. The smell of sweet, rich, fruity and fresh baking fills our senses, making our mouths water.
It is at this time that we have to go to lunch. The holograms and fog swirls away and we all gather together by the door.
It takes us fifteen minutes to get to the restaurant. We grab a seat at one of the large tables right beside the fountain, under chandeliers made entirely of coloured crystal that glows from the inside, from light sources we can't see. There are rivers of coloured water all around us, originating from the fountain, and the walls are creamy white and buried under a web of dim strings of light. The restaurant smells citrusy and fresh, and the sound of bubbling water reverberates everywhere.
We all look at the menus in front of us, books made of many slim, tiny touchscreens bound together, shining elegantly under the light. There are so many delectable things to order. I have no idea what I will choose.
Eventually I set my mind to the stuffed lobster with cream sauce, with a side of Caesar salad. It tastes absolutely divine. I don't think I've ever tasted better food. I don't think I ever will. My tastebuds feel like they're absolutely dancing with fizzing, savoury flavour and I find myself absolutely overwhelmed at all of it. It fills me and leaves me warm and hungry and longing for more. And so I order another plate. And this plate is just as flavourful and perfectly-balanced as the first.
For desert I choose fruit custard with ice cream, and it is rich and full and just seems to wash over my mouth. It's cold and warm both at the same time. And the rich wholeness of the custard and the creamy lightness of the ice cream balance each other out perfectly.
For drinks I have a tall glass of red wine diluted with cherry pop, which I know I'm too young to drink. But Lydia smiles at us mischievously and tells us that we can buy alcohol. No-one needs to know. We all smile at her. I'm so glad that she's on our side.
After lunch we go back to the gaming studio. And the next part of the game is to catch one of the clouds that fly in the sky. The sky is blue now and the clouds are fluffy and creamy and curling. We each have intricately braided lassos. Mine is coral and Clara's is magenta. They are made with shiny threads woven through them. We run after the clouds as they soar by, throwing our lassoes up at them.
We finally catch a cloud and we bring it down, pulling with all our strength. We get on the cloud and let it take to the sky with us.
The next part of the journey is so exciting. We ride through the sky in the cloud, moving fast, the ground far down below us. We steer it around exotic birds and over great trees and under billowing clouds. We have to work as a team, together in tandem. And we have to be hyper alert to everything.
Eventually we reach the market. And there we meet all of our other friends. We set up an intricately carved booth and the rest of the people do the same. And we all sell our wares, each pair of us having different things to sell. There are pies, there are muffins, there is bread. There is wines, there are dresses, there are shoes. It's all such a very cute market. I could spend a whole bunch of time here. And I do.
The game ends when we've all bought from each other, and we get back into our cars. And then wee we talk for ages about how fun the game was, who our partners were, what our cottages looked like, what kinds of different activities we did.
We continue chatting as we file back into the restaurant. I order a steak drenched in creamy curry sauce and the spicy and savoury flavours dance across my tongue in warm, full flakes. I let myself get wrapped up in the sensation of taste. I let it flow through me and overwhelm me. I cut the steak up into into pieces and try to make it last as long as possible.
Before ordering desert, I think about how perfect this day was.
If you like this piece check out my Twitter my handle is @FSairuv and I post about human rights, social justice, and the environment.