**TRIGGER WARNING: The content of this story is quite dark and challenging. It is a work of fiction, written for mature audiences only. **
Don't Hook Now
by Jim Mountfield
Just half-an-hour had passed since Bernard made love to an 18-year-old girl in a movie called Angel Heart. But already he felt horny again.
He sat on the edge of his bed, his belly resting on his lap like a giant blob of grease trying to leak down between his thighs. Using a clump of tissues, he rubbed the semen-stain from the bedsheet. It left a faint smudge, a new companion to the many other smudges covering the sheet.
He wondered why he felt horny again so soon. Probably it was because of how the sex had ended in that dark dilapidated room in 1950s New Orleans that the app had simulated so convincingly. Shortly before he’d hooked out, the ceiling had started to dribble, then pour blood down on him. Yes, blood. Talk about unexpected! And as it sloshed over his bald head and pimply back and wobbling buttocks, and rolled down the slabs of fat on his sides, he’d found it strangely arousing. And so real… Indeed, when he’d hooked out and come to his senses on his bed, he’d expected the sheet not just to bear his latest ejaculation but to be drenched in blood too.
He poked at the screen on the bedside table. On the app for SCS – Simu-Cine-Sex – he summoned up details of the film whose sex scene he’d participated in. Wow, 1987. That long ago. Bernard considered all movies made prior to 2030 to be slow, creaky, antiquated shit. But hey, there’d been some wild stuff in this one, or at least in the scene he’d experienced. Maybe one day when he had time, he’d hunt Angel Heart down on one of the retro-networks and watch it properly, watch all of it.
The Skoom icon started flashing on another part of the screen. Bernard checked who it was and accepted the call and Russell’s avatar, a rotting goat’s head with maggots oozing from its eye-sockets, occupied a five-centimetre-by-five-centimetre panel in the screen’s corner.
“What are you up for? Another round of Eco Genocide? We were quite a team during our last session. And there’s still a few pandas and Tasmanian devils we haven’t killed yet on that level.”
“No thanks. There’s something I want to do solo just now.”
“Oh, God. Don’t tell me. You’re hooking into that SCS shit again.”
Bernard didn’t say that he’d only just hooked out of it. “Yip. Best app ever.” Absent-mindedly, he scratched his belly. “Nothing like it for, uh, satisfying the appetites of a man like myself.”
“But Jesus Christ, Bern. Simulations where you make love to old people!”
Bernard sighed. “They’re not old in the simulations. They’re the age they were when they made the movies. And generally very gorgeous.”
“But why can’t it use some hot movie stars from nowadays? People you’d actually want to fuck? You know, like Cairo Hilton? Zambaga Beckham? Kylie Rees-Mogg?”
“Cairo Hilton’s films are protected by copyright laws. The ones in the SCS catalogue aren’t.”
Though the SCS films were ancient, a few of their stars were still around and presumably weren’t happy at the knowledge that their younger selves were being used as sex dolls in hyper-reality simulations that any schmuck, or schmuck-ess, could take part in if they paid a fee. All thanks to some software that commandeered and re-enacted their long-ago movies’ sex scenes. But the movies were in the public domain now and there was nothing they could do about it.
In part, the situation had been created by Ivanka Trump, good old President Trump. She’d abolished the older, stricter system ensuring long-term copyright of films, in retaliation for the Hollywood uprisings against the US government in the late 2020s.
Russell remained doubtful. “Plus… those sorts of apps are supposed to be dangerous.”
“Come on, Russ. Fake news, fake news!”
“Oh yeah? There’s a few too many stories going around for it all to be fake. Glitches, bugs… And that CTR shit!”
CTR stood for Calibrated Tissue Reaction. “Huh. Totally unproven. So a few people have ended up with scrapes and bruises? It’s obvious they didn’t get those as a result of events in the movies. They got them because they were thumping and thrashing around on their beds while they took part in the simulations!”
“I don’t know. There was the… What did they call it? The Basic Instinct case – ”
“That’s an urban myth!”
“Thumping and thrashing around on your bed doesn’t leave you with a hole through your head that corresponds to the width and length of a spike on a 20th-century ice-pick!”
After he’d got rid of Russell, Bernard searched the SCS catalogue again. That 18-year-old girl had been fun, but now he felt like having somebody more mature. Older but also… He flicked through pictures of different actresses until he arrived at a woman in her thirties. She sported a mop of twirling fair hair and wore a grey woollen coat. Her expression was one of sadness and this attracted him. He felt more predatory than usual, more sadistic. He wanted to do it with someone who was vulnerable, no, damaged. And to treat her in such a way that afterwards, she’d feel more damaged.
Fleetingly, he wondered what’d happened in the film to make the actress’s character so sad. But he didn’t care. It was only important that she was sad, vulnerable, damaged. He typed in his credit number, picked the Hype-R relay out of its recharger and slotted it into the neuro-port that was embedded behind his right ear.
He was so eager to hook in that he barely bothered to look at the film’s title, which was Don’t Look Now.
One faintly distracting thing about the SCS experience was that during the simulations a timer appeared in the top left corner of your vision. It told you when the scene on which your simulation was based happened in the film. SCS presumably did this to cover its ass under the consumer protection laws, so that customers could see they were getting what they’d paid for, a simulation of a scene starting at this time here and ending at that time there, with X number of minutes and X number of seconds in between.
Thus, while Bernard pushed himself onto the sad-faced, fair-haired lady in a cushy if old-fashioned-looking hotel-room, the timer hovered in a corner, starting at 31.05, then ticking onwards.
The timer feature seemed pointless to him because the film times and the simulation times didn’t correspond. The app didn’t just recreate sex scenes, it embellished them. Its hyper-reality elasticity made the best moments last longer, which you could tell was happening because the numbers in the timer would change more slowly. Also, the app removed any moments when the camera had cut away from the sex. It filled those spaces with extra, synthetic-virtual sex, which was known in the business as ‘stitchwork’. During the stitchwork, the timer’s numbers stopped moving altogether. Thus, though you might have paid for only three minutes if you were lucky and got lots of stitchwork, the scene felt more like 33 minutes.
Bernard noticed the timer reach 32.20. By now he’d realised this simulation contained considerably more stitchwork than usual. The thing about stitchwork was that it was never quite in sync. The simulation would stall a split-second, then jump a split-second ahead, so that he and his partner would flicker out of one carnal position and into a slightly different one. This was happening a lot. Evidently, the filmmaker had intercut the sex scene with lots of other, non-sexy bits and the app was struggling to bridge the gaps.
It wasn’t this, however, that spoilt Bernard’s enjoyment. When he started having sex with this woman he’d wanted to handle her violently and scream obscenities into her face. But he simply wasn’t able to do it. The aura of sadness she radiated infected him. He felt sad too and was incapable of being brutal.
When the timer said 33.18, the simulation encountered its most jarring stitchwork yet. It didn’t just flicker and jump a moment ahead. There was a blinding flash and the sensations being fed through the Hype-R relay into Bernard’s brain vanished. And then when the simulation re-asserted itself…
Bernard thought, fuck, this is weird.
The woman had gone and he wasn’t in the hotel-room any longer. Rather he was outside, fully clothed. It was a dull, clammy afternoon and he was walking. Drab, grey-and-brown stone walls rose on one side of him and a canal full of torpid water stretched away on the other. A flock of pigeons suddenly flapped up from the ground in front of him. An old man sitting by the outboard motor of a small boat sent his vessel scooting off into a side-canal.
Walking there, he felt massively, unaccountably sad.
Then he noticed a naked pink-plastic doll lying on the lowest of a half-dozen steps, among the mould and scum at the edge of the lapping canal-water. He descended the steps and lifted the doll. And his melancholia only increased…
Suddenly, Bernard saw how the timer in his vision’s corner showed 1.13.06. He was no longer in the part, the sexy part, of the film that he’d paid for. A glitch in the app had flung him forward by three-quarters of an hour.
Another flash. Now the timer was at 1.41.19. Bernard was charging along a narrow street beside another canal. It was dark but nonetheless, in the canal-water he caught a tantalising glimpse of a small figure in a scarlet coat, running too…
He didn’t know why, but he felt a desperate excitement.
The timer leapt to 1.42.07 and suddenly he was clawing his way across a row of tethered boats, still pursuing that diminutive scarlet-clad figure. He saw its reflection swirl in the water like ectoplasm. Then he left the boats and canal behind him and ran through a pair of huge ornate gates and up a flight of wide stairs…
The timer said 1.43.33. He waded through a knee-high miasma of mist, still chasing the figure, telling himself he had to find it. He heard things. Echoing footsteps. A sound of sobbing. He drove himself on. Higher, up a spiralling staircase…
The timer hopped to 1.44.38 and he found himself in a dark, crumbling vault of a room. The figure in the scarlet coat stood in a far corner, its back turned to him. Bernard had no idea why, but he was overwhelmed with feelings both of sorrow and of hope. “It’s okay, it’s okay, I’m a friend,” he pleaded with the turned-away figure. “I won’t hurt you… Come on… Wait…”
The figure turned towards him. It showed a grotesque, squashed, creased face under the red hood. At the same moment, one of its child-sized hands produced a blade from its coat-pocket.
A blade that, at 1.45.06, scythed into Bernard’s throat.
Bernard hooked out. Then, while he gurgled, gulped, writhed and wriggled on top of his bed like a fish that a fishing rod had just whipped onto dry land, he realised this time the bedsheet really was drenched in blood.
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