Dan Rattiner's Stories

Holy Cow! Virtual Reality in a U-Build Cardboard Box

Virtual reality arrived as a folded-up cardboard box inside The New York Times in my driveway the other day. I assembled the box into a sort of cube with eyeholes in it, slid a cellphone into it sideways and, by coordinating with a virtual reality app I downloaded the eyeholes, a place for my nose and an elastic band that went around my head, I went to see what was what.

There inside the box I saw a movie underway about a bad guy with a wool cap, a three-day growth of beard carrying a wooden box across the deck of a small fishing trawler to a place near the door to a cabin. Water lapped at the hull. Mist wafted over the boat. There was the sound of a foghorn somewhere. I think I heard the word “heist” mentioned a couple of times. He set the box down alongside some others. He was talking to somebody.

Now, the way virtual reality was explained by somebody before I tried this was you could be in a waterhole with a hippopotamus and if you poked the hippo, which you wouldn’t actually feel, the hippo would turn his head and glare at you. In this case, on this boat down at the docks, I figured if I tried to open one of the boxes, I’d get shot or something.

But that’s not what happened. I never got to the box. What DID happen is that the man looked toward me and then over my shoulder, because there was the sound of a car coming in behind me and coming to a halt. There must be a quay back there. The man said something. A voice in the car said something. And then, instead of what would happen in a regular movie, which was the scene cutting to the car pulling up so we could see who was in it, our man in the wool cap just kept talking to whoever it was. And it was not good. He cursed a little and he raised his voice.

What the hell! Only one way to see who he was talking to—so I turned around to look behind me and fell down. Bumped my head on the arm of a sofa. Lost the virtual reality box, which flew off. I had reality. Not virtual reality. Different.

Struggling to my feet, it occurred to me I wanted to see where this was going. I put the cardboard box back on my head. I turned one way and I was looking at the starboard side of the boat. I turned the other way and it was the port side. Ah ha. So there was the car, between the two but totally at what had been my back, which was now my front or something since I’d fallen down, and this fellow, with a big black moustache, was yelling at the first guy, who was on the boat but now behind me.

I get it, I thought. The boat is facing out to sea in the slip. I’m looking at the stern. At the bow is the other guy, so I turned and no he wasn’t. Where did he go? I heard his voice, turned to where it was coming from, and there he was again, now getting out of the boat at the stern to climb a little ladder to talk to the guy in the car. I’m standing in the middle of the boat. Everything is going on around me.

I got up, started to fall down again but this time grabbed a floor lamp and held on, pushing it hard into the rug like a crutch to keep myself from falling.

So that’s it. The car was shiny new, I think it was a Volkswagen. I think they paid to have this film made. And now there’s only one way to get off this damn boat.

I ripped the cardboard box off and tossed it on the sofa. There are a couple of thugs in this living room, I said, looking around. But they were gone.

I think I’ll have a drink.

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