As Paul relaxed back in the chair of the machine, a thought crossed his mind. He was puzzled by the name given to the device. It appeared little more than a virtual reality headset, so why someone had seen fit to coin such a ridiculous name for it was beyond his understanding.
“Don’t worry,” said the professor, “this device is perfectly safe. In fact, the only problem is you might not want to take it off again.”
Paul looked at the old man’s broad grin. Why did that statement not reassure him in the slightest? He couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being paid far too little for this, but he remembered it was this or jail, so resigned himself to what was about to happen.
Once the headset was over his head, for a second he could see nothing. Then something unusual caught his eye. Where moments before there had been nothing, a small stream ran past him and all around was the sound of birdsong. He thought it might be a lark singing, but where he came from no birdsong had been heard for centuries, so this was little more than a guess. When he dipped his hand in the water, he realised this was no illusion, that everything around him was real.
He saw the scene flicker for a moment and suddenly found himself in the centre of a forest, in front of a door built into a tree root. Pushing the door open, he found an old lady sleeping in a chair by a roaring fire. He saw the shell of a half eaten boiled egg on the table and began walking over to try and eat it, when the old lady woke up and smiled at him.
“I’ve been expecting you,” she said “Neil told me to knit something especially for your arrival. I even composed a little song for you, in case you forgot Rachel.”
Paul froze at the mention of that name. The only Rachel he knew was the ex-girlfriend of his murdered by the same man he now faced jail for killing. What was this machine doing? How could it possibly know that without reading his mind? Then he remembered the professor's description of the device. It tapped into the stream of consciousness within everyone, finding the root of their greatest fears and bringing them to life.
Suddenly, all willingness to lark around with this reality was gone from him, as he watched the lady change in front of him: from the lovely old woman, to a sinister shadowy figure looming towards him with great speed. Unable to compose himself fully, he pulled a gun from his belt, firing the only shell he had left. It hit the creature, only for him to see the wounded bone knit itself together again in front of his eyes.
He removed the headset instantly and stood up, moving with a flicker, still suffering from the effects of the machine. The room was empty but for one thing: a coin lying on the floor, engraved with the message: ‘You cannot escape me that easily’.