Marked as Urgent, by A.J. French

(Story illustration by Steve Santiago.)

illustration by Steve Santiago

Attn. Ensorcelled One:

I know about your problem. I know why you feel trapped, unhappy, and confused. I know why your reality and your memories seem dreamlike; why you think you don’t fit in, don’t belong.

I ask you to come away with me. Take my hand. I will show you to the nearest exit. I will help you get out. You see, I have read the stories of your world. And I have spent many hours reviewing the collected history of your world’s programming. Very good, I must admit, considering the lack of technological prowess the tentacled sky gods possessed during your time. Utterly convincing simulacra…

…but I don’t have to tell you…

…because you’re in it right now.

But you can wake up.

That’s why I’m sending you this message.

I had my own illusion from which to wake. And my world was more spotlessly designed than yours. Still, the tentacled sky gods reused some similar concepts—same ones they’ve used for centuries. Space, time, cosmos, the scientific laws: gravity, motion, force, etc. Nature: animals, plants, bodies of water; single-celled organisms found in the most immense organic structures; heavy elements, particles, photons, neutrons, atoms, waves.

But there were differences. Ours was only a future interpretation of yours. Technological advancements had come to an apex and the rigid laws of science had bent to the will of human consciousness en masse. We had restructured gravity so that our buildings and houses, as well as our vehicles, hovered over the ground. Our cities were preserved inside giant glass domes in an effort to keep out harmful UV rays, and each dome was equipped with large air-filtering systems, ingenious inventions that eradicated pollution.  

Of course not everyone lived in these cities. But to dwell outside the domes was to brave the crazed atmosphere and a life of constant danger. For the most part, this societal role had been delegated to the poorer classes, the peasants, the ignorant workers, the destitute and unfortunate. The expanses between the domes were known as ghettos. This is a concept you’re familiar with, though in your world-programming the placement and idea of ghettos is quite different.

The most significant difference between your world and my former world was the large-scale takeover of all authoritative organizations—including economics, governmental regimes, education, judicial departments, agriculture, industry, and cultural identity—by the entity known as the Intro-God. In your time, this entity is known to you by another name: The Internet. It exists in its infant stage during your lifetime but will expand exponentially by the time my world emerges into an OOO Entity (triple vowel stands for Omniscient, Omnipresent, Omnipotent).

Everything about my world was governed by the Intro-God. Life without it was unimaginable.

I wish to warn you about the illusory nature of your reality, the fraudulent quality of your world, and the impending danger of the entity which you call The Internet. That is why I have illustrated these similarities between our worlds (as well as the differences) in order to give you a clearer picture.

I am the leader of a resistance group called the Initiates. We oppose the tentacled sky fiends who are the administrators of these reality simulations. On this side of the dream, the battle is ongoing, and I am forever in need of troops and new volunteers, awakened souls with a fiery intelligence and clarity of thought; for on this side of the dream, the laws of science need not apply. Concepts such as time exist in the mind, like memories, and therefore have no influence on the external world. So even though we exist in different spheres of time, once you wake up you’ll be here with me, now.

I am, in a sense, recruiting you.

I need your help.

You would benefit to hear how I was awakened. Some souls are fortunate enough to wake up on their own; some require a little talking and encouragement; others require much discourse and a virulent kick in the pants; alas, some refuse to wake up at all, turning with stubborn refusal and condemning themselves to a life of illusion.

My name is Derlin Beare and I was born in the southernmost dome-city of Bonthrial, where the continent of South America exists in your Atlantic Ocean, to a mother and father, both of whom worked as high-level executives in the offices of the Intro-God. My parents were both robotic, in that they were both bio-engineered and genetically pre-designed.

In my world most humans were conceived this way, in a Petri dish instead of in a female womb, usually the work of artificially intelligent mechanisms under the control of the Intro-God. I was blessed with the natural birth, a phenomenon becoming altogether unknown.

My childhood was uneventful for the most part. Having partially robotic parents meant there wasn’t a lot of emotional outbursts or intense arguing. Life for me was calm and peaceful, and most of it was given over to study. My parents worked fourteen-hour days and so I was alone most of the time. My interest was in metaphysics, a field I gravitated toward from the moment I entered the scholarly halls of the Intro-God’s Learning Facilities. Metaphysics, which had been banned nearly a dozen times, was a controversial field for obvious reasons: the sky gods didn’t like anyone picking at the seams of their simulacra, finding holes, and divulging the secrets to the rest of us.

Because my life was so drab, so uneventful and lonely, I chose rebelliously to go into the field of metaphysics, knowing there were social repercussions. Since I was a natural birth and not bio-engineered, I had full access to my emotions, which meant I couldn’t just tune out the boredom and plug into the Intro-God mainframe and let it absorb my consciousness.

I wanted to shake things up.

By age ten I was deep into it. With no siblings or friends, and semi-robotic parents, I devoted myself to study. I found refuge in the halls of the Learning Center, in the books of esteemed philosophers.

I began my inquiry into the nature of reality with Aristotle but quickly graduated to Hume and Kant and Descartes. I studied the works of these great minds for hours, immersing myself in their thought processes. I hadn’t yet generated any of my own thinking, but this was a germination period.

Later I found Schopenhauer, Spinoza, and Leibniz and was never quite the same. Reading the words of these men did strange things to my mind. I understood why the Intro-God discouraged people from looking into metaphysics. It became clear that every natural “law” and governmentally established “rule” was a fraud, a mere guess at the truth, conjecture.

It got to the point that I couldn’t determine what was real and so began stumbling through life in a daze. I was still a teenager at the time. My parents noticed the change and had something to say about it, but being that they were partially robotic, once I reasoned with them clearly and delivered my argument (which was infallible) for desiring a career as a metaphysicist, they were forced to acquiesce.

I did, however, notice a repulsion on their part with respect to me. This triggered bouts of depression and emotional instability, but I was able to overcome my despair. It’s true I had always felt alone.

I graduated with a degree in philosophy, moved out of my parents’ house, and took up a permanent residence in the city. I began my work writing papers for the annals of the Intro-God. These could be reviewed by the human population at large via the mainframe. Although the administrative drones and monitors discouraged my kind of works they allowed them in order to maintain the semblance of a free society. That is how I reached the many humans who now make up the Initiates.

It is also how I am reaching you. This is a trickling down through the circuit board bars of the prison. Inside the Intro-God, while there is time, time is mutable, so I can bend it to my liking and get my words to whomever I please.

But back to my story. I had begun reading the works of two men from your time. One was a theoretical physicist named Albert Einstein. The other a well-known science fiction author named Phillip K. Dick. I was introduced to the idea of a simulated universe. I read other men who wrote on the topic, men who came many years after your time. Spiegel Goldstein, Jensen Roth, Wellington James, and Harlan A. Cartwright.

I assimilated their works and underwent another change. Then I started my experiments.

They began as a sort of trance-induced meditation. I had been reading extensively on the ancient religion of Hinduism, so some of my ideas were taken from various sources concerning that. I would sit cross-legged in my home for hours with my eyes closed as I focused on my breathing, mentally whispering mantras designed to subdue my thoughts. There was also a kind of imagining that went with this; not daydreaming, but a form of visualization…

I became so immersed in these meditations that coming out of them was equivalent to entering another world. The moment I opened my eyes I would see the particles and atoms scattering back together like gold dust, reshaping themselves into the physical phenomena I recognized as my home.

One day I opened my eyes and the walls and ceiling were melting like ice cubes. Not long after I was given to visions, which I recorded in a leather bound journal. Consider the following:

I am diving down into the sea, all the way to the ocean floor, where I don my suit of iron and step clumsily through the water. I stalk like a giant over fissures and waving aquatic plants. Soon I come to a great beast lying like a mountain inside a deep gorge. Its many eyes glare up at me. Its flailing tentacles prod the water.

It speaks without words, conveying messages directly into my head. It asks me why I have come, and I reply that I am merely in a dream, that I only seek the truth about things—a truth I cannot seem to find.

The beast smiles and opens its cavernous maw. It informs me that it is The Gatekeeper, and then, with the creation of a swirling eddy, it sucks me straight into oblivion…

The visions terrified me, and they filled my sleep with nightmares. But I knew I was on to something. I was finally carving out my own breech in reality, just like the great metaphysicians I admired. I expanded my ideas in the papers I wrote for the Intro-God’s annals and was contacted by humans who felt the same way. I began inviting these humans to my home for discourse. This began a long period of digesting the metaphysical information I had read in my youth.

Around this time I was contacted by a higher intelligence, a strange non-physical being I knew only as Key. Key first appeared to me while I was deep in meditation. The being guided me through visions, such as the one described above, and I learned a great deal.

The being followed me wherever I went, spoke inside my head, a voice comely and plain, offering me its higher wisdom. The more I took its advice, the more I learned to trust it. Soon it was guiding me like the North Star.

Now the walls of every structure I viewed were never more than translucent glass planes. The sky outside seemed as flimsy as the artificial glass dome covering our city. Occasionally I would see great distortions in space itself, blurry rips in the fabric of reality, which I spent a lot of time studying. Some people thought I was mad, but my converts read my papers and listened to my lectures eagerly.

I was pulling myself out—out of what and into where, I had no idea—but I soon drew the attention of the tentacled sky gods from beyond the veil. Since they’re the administrators of these reality simulations, they’re always watching, monitoring for those who approach that moment of waking up, for they wish us to remain asleep, existing in a state of perpetual unconsciousness, so they can use our hearts and our thoughts as power generators and fuel cells, while meanwhile we race like mice through their hideous reality simulators.

They appeared in my dreams. Key alerted me to their presence before going off into the murmurous background of my mind. Then I’d find myself standing in a great confusion of stars and celestial objects, with geometric planes slanting at preposterous angles, creating a dizzying Tower of Babel that reached toward the sky.

Those awe-inspiring fiends came down from the upper atmosphere in gaseous clouds and plumes of red fire, their tentacles weaving out flower-like at all sides. They gathered around me, the size of tall buildings, gazing with vile black eyes, and I, quivering in my feeble suit of flesh, wept and wailed and moaned, cursing them back to Hell.

I stood before the tentacled sky gods and heard their voices in my head, a relaxed choir of sounds whose songlike message to me was simply—

            “Sleep… Sleep… Sleep…”

I awoke from such visions doused in sweat, screaming at the top of my lungs.

The beings began popping up in my waking life. Often I’d be walking down the stone pathways of the city, heading to the Learning Facilities or back from the grocer’s, and I would suddenly become conscious of a breech in the sky. A throbbing wound of many colors—oranges and golds and reds—which I first suspected was a crack in the dome. But then I saw thick green tentacles probingthrough the tears, slippery green stalks the size of mountains, prodding at me in an almost sardonic manner, as if to say, Aha, we see you… I was good at keeping my composure, but sometimes these visions caught me off guard and scared the hell out of me. I was known to scream abruptly in crowds and fall to my knees.

My world grew darker…

I remained indoors, afraid to leave the house and face the accusatory looks of the civilians and Learning Facility workers. Many of my converts abandoned me during this time, thinking me mad. But a few of them remained, tending to my neurotic needs. These few eventually transmigrated with me.

The day came when Key spoke firmly and directly in my head, possibly the last time I heard its voice. It told me I was now the key. Key to what? I asked. To the prison, it replied, and then it went silent. A door emerged in the middle of my bedroom, a shimmering holographic image of blues and yellows, standing upright, attached to nothing. It was composed of a partially translucent substance, which flickered in and out of sight.

My converts could also see this manifestation, and they bid me to open it.

I did.

Blinding light streamed into the room, incinerating everything in sight. I stepped forward, the converts following behind me. Everything re-collapsed on itself—time, space, matter—until I felt immaterial.

I went unconscious. When I came to I was being pulled from the scalloped ranks of metallic bio-heaps, where an infinitude of beings (human and otherwise) had been stored, into a ship where others like me (awakened) awaited. They were instantly kind and unlike anyone I had even met. They were so alive, so full of feeling, emotion, thought, and vibrant energy. They took me in as part of their crew and we sailed away from the tragic bio-heaps.

They brought me to a hidden city sunken in the depths of a bright green ocean with rocks and exotic plants of striking color. Fascinating alien creatures dove through the water. I even saw the colossal squid beast who had revealed itself to me as The Gatekeeper in my vision.

A translucent aura surrounded the stone city, keeping it dry and livable. The inhabitants made me feel welcome and gave me a place to stay. I found it utterly terrifying that everything I had suspected and wrote about was true. It took some getting used to.

The inhabitants told me about the tentacled sky gods, how they ruled this cold planet with iron feelers, all except the oceans, which, strangely, they avoided. They explained to me all about time, about the reality simulators, blaming their former existence in the prison on the gods, whom they hated with a passion. For years they had hid in the sea—trapped in another kind of prison, I thought. They had yet to take their stand, but I would change all that. I soon recognized some of my converts scattered about the city, and we banded together.

The Initiates were born…

I feel that this is enough of my history to create a clear picture in your head about what is going on. I stand back now and leave the decision in your hands. This is a matter of free will. You will not believe me just because I told you this fantastical story. You’ll have to discover the truth for yourself.

The tentacled sky gods are immensely powerful, and we need all the help we can get. I urge you—before you forget this and move on with your illusory existence—to try the following experiment:

Take yourself into a calm quiet space, preferably a single room with four walls and a door you can close. Blank white walls would be best, perhaps a lavatory or a small bedroom. Quiet your mind while sitting cross-legged with your back straight. Close your eyes, enter the deepest part of your mind. Imagine yourself falling through the floor, deeper and deeper. Once you feel you are there, open your eyes.

Stare at one of the walls in front of you, keeping your mind still. Focus deep into the wall, try and see through it. Do this for as long as it takes. Imagine the walls thinning, evaporating, melting. Imagine the polygonal lines and planes of the reality simulator.

This may take several tries, but keep it up. Once you accomplish it for even a second there is no going back; you can never un-see the simulation. You’ll be on your way to awakening from the dream.

And I will be here, on this side, waiting for you…

…as I have always been waiting for you…

…fighting the good fight…

…keeping the fire burning.

Hope to hear from you soon,

Derlin Beare, Leader of the Initiates


Aaron J. French, also writing/editing as A.J. French, is an affiliate member of the Horror Writers Association. His work has appeared in many publications, including D. Harlan Wilson’s The Dream People, issue #7of Black Ink Horror, the Potter’s Field 4 anthology from Sam’s Dot Publishing, Something Wicked magazine, and The Lovecraft eZine. He also has stories in the following anthologies: Ruthless: An Extreme Horror Anthology edited by Shane McKenzie, with introduction by Bentley Little; Pellucid Lunacy edited by Michael Bailey; M is for Monster compiled by John Prescott; Zippered Flesh: Tales of Body Enhancements Gone Wrong edited by Weldon Burge; and Dark Tales of Lost Civilizations edited by Eric J. Guignard. He recently edited Monk Punk, an anthology of monk-themed speculative fiction with introduction by D. Harlan Wilson, and The Shadow of the Unknown, an anthology of nü-Lovecraftian fiction with stories from Gary A. Braunbeck and Gene O’Neill.

Illustration by Steve Santiago.

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17 responses to “Marked as Urgent, by A.J. French

  1. Pingback: Free SF/F/H Fiction for 2/29/2012 - SF Signal – A Speculative Fiction Blog·

  2. Hi Jodi, thanks for stopping by and reading! I’m waist-deep in SATYRS edits, and recently finished up your CASTING LOTS story. I want to say again how much I enjoyed it! Yours will be the third story in the book, following SEMI-SATYR by Jonathon Vos Post. Thanks again for commenting!


  3. At first the likenesses between the plotting of this story and the events of the Matrix movies were a little too similar for me, but by the end, I thought the Lovecraftian and Matrix-esque elements here coalesced into a unique standalone story of simulated reality. I agree with the above discussion: there is certainly the seed here for a longer work or works. Nice job.


  4. Thanks, Katy! I’m thrilled you enjoyed it. And yes, some novels set inside this kind of world would certainly be something fun to read — and to write! I hope to revisit the tentacled sky gods and write more on them again in the future. Thanks so much for reading the eZine and for commenting!


  5. Awesome story! You need to get some books written, my friend – this world/reality/non-reality you have created here would be much better than the Matrix – even the first movie! 🙂


  6. Will surely continue reading the zine 🙂 I need a good while for every issue, but it is always a great joy to explore new writing talents. In addition this zine feels like the old zines Lovecraft wrote for – just transferred to the digital age.


  7. Glad you enjoyed the story, and thanks for reading! The overuse of the ellipses was a hokey grammatical effect, but I do see your point. Too much of anything can become an eyesore! Hope you will continue to read the Lovecraft eZine each month.


  8. I like the style of this story, not sure how to express. Its “urging” 😉 I am a reader of Kant myself and the scene in his childhood where he started to read all this utterly complex philosophs was giving something to me. Because, it just feels “wrong” if a kid would do that. So there is where the real weirdness of this story starts for me. I have enjoyed the read and this was a damn good start for issue 11. The only thing I don’t like are too much sentences ending with “…”… its a bit to pathetic for me. But hey, I am not a native speaker, maybe others think different. Thanks Aaron.


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