Science Fiction flash fiction virtual reality isolation psychology choose your own adventure

Turn A New Page

By Kat Otis
Aug 10, 2019 · 874 words · 4 minutes

Photo by Hammer & Tusk via Unsplash.

     The first night after Ryan left her, Alicia was devastated.  She sobbed on the phone to her mother for hours.  The second night, she invited all of her girlfriends over to eat ice cream and cry at sappy movies.  The third night, Alicia decided that Ryan wasn't worth another tear. So she went clubbing, where she danced and drank and met a handsome accountant named Josh.  At the end of the night, Josh asked her if she needed a ride home.

     Alicia opened her mouth to answer, then hesitated as she saw her choices laid out for her as clearly as if it was one of those old Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books.

     To have a rebound fling with Josh, turn to page 46.

     To preserve the chance of creating a stable relationship with Josh, turn to page 97.

     There was only one correct choice.  She turned to page 97.

     Alicia Frasier came out from under the VR machine's influence and blinked dazedly at the man sitting in front of her.  Dr. Joshua Martin.  Her therapist.  Right. She was in her therapist's office. The movie night and the clubbing and the accountant Josh – none of them had been real.

     "I think we're making progress," Josh said, giving her a reassuring smile.

     "I think so, too."  Alicia returned the smile, automatically, though her mind was still caught in the last remnants of her virtual reality.  She wondered if her subconscious was trying to tell her something by substituting accountant Josh for therapist Josh.  If she was starting to fall for Josh then maybe – just maybe – she really was over Ryan.

     Alicia opened her mouth to ask, then hesitated as she saw her choices laid out for her.

     To admit your crush on Josh, turn to page 132.

     To maintain a mature distance with Josh, turn to page 165.

     There was only one correct choice.  She turned to page 165.

     Alicia Frasier, Psy.D. candidate in psychology, came out from under the VR machine's influence and shook her head to clear away the mental cobwebs.  Her advisor, Dr. Joshua Martin, was beaming at her.

     "Let me be the first to congratulate you, Dr. Frasier!"

     Alicia slowly found herself matching his grin.  She had passed her final qualifying exam for her doctorate.  All her dreams were about to come true, never mind that loser Ryan who had dumped her when she decided to go back to school. He wasn't half the man Josh was.

     "So, as promised, dinner to celebrate," Josh said.  "Where would you like to go?"

     Alicia opened her mouth to answer, then hesitated as she saw her choices laid out for her.

     To name a fancy restaurant with a date-like atmosphere, turn to page 181.

     To name a casual restaurant and maintain a professional distance with Josh, turn to page 146.

     There was only one correct choice.  She turned to page 146.

     Dr. Alicia Frasier, Psy.D., came out from under the VR machine's influence and rubbed her aching head with her hands.  "God, I hate that machine."

     "It takes some people that way," Josh said, sympathetically.  "But on the bright side, looks like you passed your recertification with flying colors."

     "So I guess that means I'll see you again in another five years." Alicia managed a faint smile for the machine technician.

     "Guess it does," Josh smiled back.

     Alicia levered herself up out of the chair, then hesitated as she saw her choices laid out for her.

     To ask to see Josh again sooner, turn to page 127.

     To maintain an objective distance with Josh, turn to page 84.

     There was only one correct choice.  She turned to page 84.

     Dr. Alicia Frasier, Professor Emeritus at NYU, came out from under her VR machine's influence and flung the headpiece across her apartment, not caring if she ruined the expensive equipment.

     She'd made the correct choices again.  She had alwaysmade the correct choices and look what it had gotten her – a fat bank account and an echoingly empty apartment.

     Alicia grabbed her coat and stormed out, determined not to waste any more time in a virtual world.  She took the elevator down to the lobby and waved at the elderly complex manager as she passed by.

     "Morning, Dr. Frasier," the manager nodded from behind his desk.

     "Really," Alicia said, automatically hiding her feelings behind a fake smile.  "How many times have I said to call me Alicia?"

     "I'll start calling you Alicia when you start calling me Josh," the manager said, giving her a real smile in return.

     Alicia opened her mouth to answer, then hesitated, waiting for her choices to unfold before her.  When nothing happened – because this was reality, not VR, and she of all people should know the difference – she imagined the possibilities.

     To create the chance of a relationship with Josh, turn to page 73.

     To maintain a distance with Josh, turn to page 14.

     This time there was no correct choice.

     She took a deep breath, then turned the page.

This story originally appeared in Penumbra eMagazine.