Note: Updating either CT or Haunted weekly is rough. For now, please enjoy this short story inspired by last week’s Haunted and a certain old-school sci-fi show!
It’s also part of the Monthly SimLit Short Story Challenge. You’ll be able to submit your own stories until April 30th and vote on the entries from May 1st–May 7th. If you somehow found this from outside SimLit, go there for the tiny and very supportive community; I don’t particularly care about winning and am content to roll around in the dirt in this corner of the internet.
There are length restrictions—at most 800 words and 15 screenshots—so if it seems tight in places, it’s because it’s hitting both maxes exactly. That’s my excuse for not writing in my normal bonkers prose style anyway.
You’re approaching another dimension.
A dimension not only of reticulated splines but of ideas; a fantastical region whose boundaries are that of imagination.
You’ve now entered…
The Plumbob Zone.
“Mickey, are you coming to bed?”
With a dreamy sigh, Chloe’s boyfriend closed his novelty cooking-skill book, To Serve Man. Since moving into their first apartment, he’d been determined to cook like a real adult.
“Always at the bookshelf,” she teased. “A grown man who reads doggerel.”
That earned an eyeroll. “You think it’s a waste of time?”
“Nothing that has me doing less chores is a waste of time.” She patted his pillow. “But interrupting my sleep is. C’mon.”
“If you insist.”
Subject: a one Mr. Mickey Blake.
A mediocre man, a prisoner in his own body. A despicable ball content to being knocked around in the pachinko machine of the universe.
What Mr. Blake does not yet know, and what you soon will, is that he is about to cross a barrier few Sims venture to believe exists. When his dream ends, he will find himself in that class of nightmare that only occurs in…
The Plumbob Zone.
Daylight washed over Mickey, who awoke to a full bladder. He rolled over to greet Chloe.
Involuntarily, he shrieked, sending Chloe into a panic. “Mickey! What? What’s wrong?!”
One shaky finger indicated the source of his bemusement. What information the balloon conveyed was not new, but its existence was what worried him. “What’s that above your head?”
“What’s what?” She looked around, finding nothing. The way she reached for his arm felt more animatronic than comforting.
“I should go,” he said, stumbling backwards out of bed.
He reached the bathroom. Against his better judgement, he looked in the mirror and let out his second shriek of the morning.
His hands passed right through it. Then he sensed something new: he was being watched by a second pair of eyes.
The Watcher is real.
Remembering what had initially roused him, and what the morning’s startle had not relieved, Mickey glanced behind at the toilet. Not now; not under this entity’s gaze. Needing to confirm his suspicion, he ran outside.
Everyone had boxes. Not just the men, but the women and the children too.
And Mickey found he could hold it in no longer.
“Look at what you made me do,” he told the sky, “are you happy?! Are you?!”
Children laughed as their parents shooed them away from the screaming man in the puddle.
Prophet Mickey had lost track of how long ago the boxes appeared.
It consumed him day and night, but he learned to live with the invasion. Tents and bushes felt safer from gazing eyes than real beds and toilets.
At first, he’d tried to warn as many others as possible. But popping out of a tent did nothing for his credibility, and few took self-declared prophets seriously—least of all Chloe, she’d—
Then it absorbed him. The sublime glow the ancient texts fell short of describing. A beacon. And as it caught his third eye, he understood why he’d been granted this power.
He grabbed the stranger who carried the most sacred icon.
“You bear the mark. You’ve been Chosen.”
The man wrenched himself from Mickey’s unwashed hands. “Get off of me.”
“Wait! Wait!” He gestured at the spinning mark. “The Watcher put me here to warn you. You’ve been chosen, and you’re blessed—“
“—I don’t believe in—“
“—or cursed. But! Either way, they control your mind from the inside.”
“So you’re the only one who understands the Watcher’s intentions. Alright.” He lunged left.
But Mickey blocked his path. “I can prove it! We’ve never met, and I know you’re Xiyuan Liu! It’s in that box over your head!”
“And? I’m a public figure.”
This didn’t deter Mickey. “But there’s other things that don’t make sense, like—like the pause when you enter a new location. Isn’t that weird?”
Xiyuan shrugged. “Is it?”
“Stop.” Xiyuan raised his voice. “What, exactly, do you hope to achieve by telling me this?”
“I was put here to warn you. I knew it the minute I saw you.”
“This is nonsense. What recourse would I have against being controlled? What good has this knowledge done you?”
“But you have—“
“And if the watcher is controlling us, is this conversation predetermined? Have you been created only to fail?”
At this, Xiyuan pushed past him and ran off.
“You—you fool!” Mickey yelled after him. “You learn the secrets of your universe, only to reject them!”
The glow faded into the background.
And so, who is more foolish?
The pawn in his own story, or the king in someone else’s?
These questions one would only think to ask in the library board game rental that is…
The Plumbob Zone.
31 thoughts on “Eyes Up for the Prophet”
What I want to know is, where is The Scarf during all this? Clearly, as the one entity without a Nameplate, The Scarf wanted Nothing to do with this chicanery!
And Xiyuan is too wise to be even a wise fool!
Mm, maybe it’s too warm out for Scarfie to show its… face. Face? Face.
I think that’s why I love The Scarf so much–face is pretty easy to read! It’s blank! No worries for eye contact. Everything is gesture! No plumbob or nameplate, either! Go Scarf!
And it’s asexual! It’s…. SCARFACE.
Scarf-ace! I love it!
Nice! I am living for sim!Rod popping awkwardly out of the closet. And yes, I can hear the theme music. Ah, poor Mickey. To be cursed with the irrefutable knowledge that either he does live in a simulation, or he’s gone irrevocably mad. I’m assuming he does not become the sim analogue to Nick Bostrom.
Fortunately Xiyuan is a favorite.
You know I am a huge fan of your “bonkers prose” (as someone who also is known for bonkers prose and just general verbosity), so I’m impressed with how compact this is! I was particularly tickled by the To Serve Man reference and
Now, my only question is: Why on Earth is The Plumbob Zone a “library board game rental”? I love this metaphor. It makes no sense.
Xiyuan is the guardian of my soul, and he knows it, and he exploits the stuffing out of it.
Oh, that would have been way better if he’d been some sort of postdoc. Where were you while I was writing this other than talking to me the entire day? But yeah, those were the major notes I wanted to hit; I wanted
– Rod Serling climbing out of some awkward place to roast the protagonist absolutely into the ground
– Extraneous references (you can imagine that with the bookworm setup, there’s another lurking somewhere)
– General verbosity (well, too bad, Dolly)
– Metaphors that are as heavyhanded as they make no sense. Just like “a whole other meatball” or “cream puff buffet,” I have no clue what that means either. My brainus got there from trying to expand on the chess thing.
Yay for reticulated splines! That will always be far superior to “ok.”
See, Mickey here is shrieking at the Young Adult label in the mirror – I wouldn’t mind that label. I’m pretty sure mine would say Adult by now, even though I don’t feel like one. That’s something to shriek about 😀
Not just the men, but the women and children too. Class 😀 Aah, Mickey is a random townie. Poor dude, not chosen by watcher. I just love how the vibrant plumbob contrasts the black and white. All of the pictures are amazing in this one, btw!
Ooh, are loading screens weird – good question there Xiyuan. Beyond his little shade at the endless open versus closed world debate, he’s right in a metaphysical sesne too, what are the criteria for weird and not weird when it comes to our reality?
Xiyuan is one smart dude. He’s right, no point freaking out about something he can’t change. He’ll be happier for it, watcher be willing. Which should not be a problem, since inside sources tell me watcher has a soft spot for Xiyuan here 😀 Aww, what of poor Mickey, though? Left to his limited free will. He’s probably peeing himself as we speak.
OHHH MICKEY, YOU’RE NOT FINE
YOU’RE NOT FINE, YOU LOST YOUR MIND
A whole lot of weird prose and additional shady tidbits got cut out because of the word limit, but I’m glad someone appreciates the parts I kept in. Ahahaha! Originally, the conversation with Yuan was four times as long and ten times as cheeky. As long as there’s enough to get people to question their reality and what would happen to them if they started seeing info balloons over everyone’s head.
Glad you like the pictures—I made 6 custom poses for this one!
This is correct… the watcher loves this leaf-gifting, theater-going, ghost-riding git so much, it causes real-world problems. As for Mickey, I’ll give him a festive St. Patrick’s Day hat or something.
I am rolling here .. ohh I love this song
Fab Fab Fab .. this is great!
Screenshots = stunning. Also, I did cough up a little wine when homeboy stepped out of the closet. YAAASSSS Twilight Zone…er….Plumbob Zone.
I enjoyed the meta-ness (is this a word? no, but its been a long week) of simlit about a sim who thinks they are living in the “real” world, only to wake up and find that they are in a game/simulation and then hunt down characters from a simlit who seem to fully accept that they their real lives are a game/simulation but why should that stop them from living their best lives.
Mr. Liu’s Play Big & Jam. I feel like Yuan has thoughts about musical compositions that employ a lil too much fortissimo without enough variation. Or maybe Vlad is on his own in thinking that 1812 Overture is “a bit much.”
Notice how Chloe just peaced out when her boyfriend went all “I’m a prophet” on her. That’s how you do it. Mickey is right, but he’s cray, girl.
In other news: remember when updating weekly seemed like a totally reasonable and sustainable thing? ::laughs, glances at BBD:: Yeah. Good times.
HAHAHA yes, someone to appreciate the ever-present desire to have Rod Serling pop out of sillier and sillier places! The show did occasionally achieve peak silliness, but there could have been a lot more moments where two characters were talking in a car and the camera pans to the backseat to reveal that Rod Serling has been there the whole time, or he pops out of a barrel or from behind a pole. Spouse and I binged Twilight Zone recently and fell over laughing pretty much every time the camera panned to him chilling in the middle of a scene.
Do the CT characters know they’re in a simulation? And yes, Yuan has the maximum number of opinions it is possible to have and he and Vlad will get stuck in a feedback loop that is half historical linguistics and half complaining about music. Dynamic variation, though, good catch. He (and Shu) are canonically sensitive to changes in volume or emotion—for a reason that has been partly addressed.
Yeah… weekly updates… WHY DO I DO THIS TO MYSELF, FEROSH. HELP.
Oh man, Twilight Zone is my jam specifically for those reasons. Husband won’t watch tho, too scary lol.
Ooohhh, I just assumed they did know but maybe they don’t? It’s like they just take the weird shit like having an inventory for granted and why would they think any differently? But then what happens when they play a game of the sims on the computer and…ugh…my brain just went in so many loops.
Speaking of loops, as soon as Vlad and Yuan get to historical linguistics Alice and Bernard will quietly grab a bottle of Old Yorkfield Classic and head for the graveyard.
I don’t know how to help you because I don’t know how to help myself. I’m hoping to return this weekend though…
BBD Book Two is definitely gonna have shorter chapters lol.
I’m so pumped for the BBD ending (but not in a way that infringes on your work writing/research and produces additional stress)! And, too scary, lol.
The loop ends when they get a call from the jail (“your corpse or someone else’s?!”). Man, this dinner party thing is also looking like a good source of procrastination. I mean inspiration. Let me also say that while we both decided Bernard is the Alice in this relationship, the infamous “tongues of men” comment made him EVEN MORE the Alice in this relationship. UP TOP.
(Those passing by in the comments: gaze at it. Gaze. Observe the perfect dangling modifier, consider the canon evidence establishing Lord Shallot one step closer to HotChip&Lie!Bernard. And read BBD, do it do it!!)
Also, this short story challenges sounds fun and like a nice way to procras—er try another creative endeavor while I’m wrapping up BBD….maybe….
Ok, so clearly some of the references here were over my head. I will use the excuse that I am reading at work and my brain is full and unfocused, but the truth is that I often feel this way when I read. Nonetheless, I did love it. I have moments like this where I feel like the friend in Sideways, the movie where they are doing high end wine tasting and he is so lost with it all that the most intelligent thing he can say is “I Like It”. So ya. I like it!
Haha, don’t worry about the references at all! As long as the main message landed, it’s all good 🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed this one!
(To be fair, if asked to a high-end wine tasting, I wouldn’t be able to do much more than yell “I think it’s pronounced ‘peanut no-er,'” twirl the glass around and proclaim “lookit them legs,” then later claim to detect notes of “freshly cut garden hose.”)
LOL on the wine tasting notes there. As for references, I know I put in things that I think are hilarious even though I am pretty sure no one will really get it, but every once in a while someone picks up on it.
Rereading and still smiling .. I forgot to mention first time how much I loved the green in the screenshots .. very dramatic and fun!
Haha, thank you! I bet this is how shiny it looks for them!
I’ve been waiting for Rod Serling to pop out of a random, unconventional place and tell me that “you haven’t been crazy all this time because the real insanity is about to begin” since I was 13. Still holding out hope.
Your story felt exactly like an episode of TZ down to the character and the audience knowing they’re right, but no one else knows or cares. Definitely a question I have pondered on. If there was irrefutable proof that we’re in a simulation would it matter? Does that change anything practically?
I think I’d deal better with being in the Sims than the Matrix. I’m not really a “let’s overthrow the overlords” type cause I know I’d be the first to die!
You and me both! Though I could do without his roast. But, awesome, I’m glad you got that classic Twilight-Zone feel! With people like you and Minraed around, I really have to step up my screenshot game, and I did spend some time messing around with the editing here.
Ever since the game-aware-sims collaboration was announced, I’ve been trying to think of ways to prove you’re in a simulation while still inside the simulation. But everything I’ve come up with hinges on knowing what features a non-simulated world has, and that’s not available to these guys. I’d imagine loading screens and notifications are normal things for sims that would only strike us as weird because we don’t have them, and so that’s how Xiyuan and his cohorts are written.
That’s a reasonable response. I’m the “write argumentative essay that exposes the logical fallacies in the overlords’ propaganda,” or whatever, and whether there’s any difference between that and just hiding in a box is out of my hands.
I love the Twilight Zone theme.
Glad you enjoyed it! It was fun to make.
This was so well written. The opening scene had me laughing and now the star wars theme song is stuck in my head for some reason lol.
Hah! I wonder whether the TZ theme song transliteration or the random unnecessary prequel reference influenced it more.
This was awesome. I still need to watch/read The Twilight Zone, but I really enjoyed this story! I remember Chrill Sims made a video some time ago pondering if we’re all just really Sims who are controlled by a greater being. In that case, I must have the absent-minded trait and my Watcher must love seeing me fail. Actually, I would have the unlucky trait too!
FINALLY commenting on this masterpiece.
The floating door through space is done brilliantly. It’s the reason why I clicked on this story. I KNEW this was gonna be a journey through The Twilight Zone, and it DID NOT disappoint.
“A dimension not only of RETICULATED SPLINES” (so Sims 2 is my jam, and “reticulated splines” was one of the little sayings on the loading screen for S2, so seeing this just brought back memories). THE PLUMBOB ZONE omg omg omg omg. Absolutely brill!
His cooking book TO SERVE MAN. Okay, THAT made me fall in love with you, Dolly. To Serve Man is one of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes. I nearly lost my shit when Jordan Peele’s TZ remake did an episode based on the original.
Rod Simling just came out of the closet? lololololTHE PANCHINKO MANINE OF THE UNIVERSE lololol
Such a great setup. It feels like watching The Twilight Zone. L.O.V.E.
Mickey freaking out over the “balloon above her head” and his name/description was just so masterfully executed. THE WATCHER IS REAL.
The SS of Mickey looking up (at The Watcher) is so uncanny. It gives ME the heebie jeebies. A ROGUE sim.
I love the little shoutout to Yuan. When I first read this I had no idea that Yuan was your main character in Haunted, so re-reading the dialogue gives it a different meaning now (but when I came across the comic of The Prophet, I knew it was from this story). Dude, Yuan laying out mind blowing sage advice. Yuan so shmexy with his big brain.
Awesome story, Dr.! Love love love it.
Ahahaha, yes!! Thanks for catching all the little details. This thing was pushing up against the word & screenshot limits all the while but YOU KNOW every single one of those shots of Rod Serling popping out of the closet was necessary. Honestly the best part of the show upon the rewatch, and spouse and I screamed every time the camera panned over and he was just chilling in the room outta nowhere.
SPEAKING OF YUAN’S BIG BRAIN. Yee, it’s wonktastic, but the joke still stands.