张文心

New Short Story

Virtual Island

I used to live in the world of PC games for a long time. It was 1999, the end of the century, in a game aptly named “Virtual Life”. The main character dutifully struggled in the grids of a map, day after day, attending school, graduating, fighting monsters, completing quests, trading gear, working, getting married, renovating a new home, levelling up and defeating the final boss to save mankind. 

I didn’t care much for the fate of mankind. I liked sending my character to a vacationing island. It was always dusk on the island. The wind, in tandem with the rhythm of lounge music, pushed waves to crash against the rocks. Coconut trees leaned toward their reflections in the water, and my character walked inside the grids absent-mindedly. His time came to a stop on this island, and the world was but a soft mass coiled upon itself. He no longer remembered his tragic destiny to fight the final boss. The predestined ending was diluted, dilated and demolished. Of the meaning of life, only a slurred slogan from faraway remained. 

By the time I reached there, I only saw a trail of blood of about ten meters long. There was no cell phone, no wallet, no notes, only a suitcase filled with changes of clothes and a few receipts. 

“The incident occurred at one thirty in the afternoon. According to the receipts, it was fifteen minutes after his last stop at a toll station.” I have never learned why the police investigator told us this. I also heard that shortly before he lost consciousness, he had accepted the interview of a female journalist who was passing through. None of us decided to look up that interview. It was a fast decision, made on the spot, instinctively. After so many years, that interview probably became digital fragments that could be tracked down by some fifty-dollar recovery software in some computer somewhere, running on Windows XP which had not yet been updated. 

I was walking on the island once more, grid by grid. Everything within my eyesight was covered by an orange-gold glow. The island approached complete flatness, except for the rocks near the shore, so its boundaries were easily observable. At the end of the island, about fifty steps away from me, stood a teleporter which would bring me back, under the guise of a shimmering breeze, to the world of rat races and fights to the death. 

As I cased the dice, accompanied by the island soundtrack, I approached a battered Jetta. I opened its door. Blood was trickling out of a hollow right in the middle of his forehead, a wound formed impact with the jagged windshield glass. He moved his lips: “It hurts. I am going.” 

At that brink in time I came to the sudden realization that I didn’t know him. The familiar warmth of his presence faded as his face grew pale. That warmth was the key for me to recognize him among the crowd. Once it was lost, he became one with everybody: people on the street, people on the overpass, people in the subway, people in the office buildings, people strolling in malls, people visiting famous sights, people drinking in groups, people playing mah-jong, people sweating in saunas, people walking by rivers, people warming wine in the depth of winter, people losing themselves between the lips of lovers, people surviving battles and wars. 

I was lost in my thoughts as I returned to the main map. They had just put solid wood flooring in my newly bought home. The next throw off the dice brought me to the furniture store. I spent my earnings made killing off minor monsters on a large cherry wood bed, and moved in with my husband to our new home that very evening. In my dream, I was looking for the descendants of the Jia family in the north of a small Northern Californian town without cell phone signal reception. I knocked on door after door for my inquiry, pushing a bicycle. The residents said with cryptic look on their faces: “No one left. They have all gone.” My tears were dripping like long ribbons, which overflowed from my palms as I tried to cup them, so long, they were touching the ground. Why was I so devastated for the extinction of a bloodline that I did not even know? 

After that day, I became busy with boosting my skills, and half a year soon passed, but my stats were still not ideal. I felt increasingly suffocated by the battle which was fast approaching, so I paid my way to the island. 

After a few mini-games of coin catching and target shooting, I saw him walking toward me from afar. His hair was grey and his body, thin and frail. I didn’t know what to tell him, but my heart became overwhelmed with joy. I knew that he had died, that he had become burning bones, then bitter ashes, but the fact that he was living did not seem to be in conflict with his prior death. 

“Where have you gone?” I took his hands, semi-inappropriately. “The United States. I have rejected my whole life, so I went there for twenty years of dish-washing. Washing dishes was a life that fitted me.” 

I knew that I was also part of the life that he had rejected, perhaps a great part of it. My throat tightened up as I wrapped my arms around myself. A book said that closing one’s arms was a sign of fear and embarrassment, so every time that I took this position, I felt a strong sense of shame. 

“Then why have you come back?” Actually I no longer cared. “I have cancer, and I want to die here.” He took a seat on the bench of the island garden 

I threw the dice and moved six steps, leaving him behind, on the bench, alone. Then I started using both of my dices to move back to the world awaiting my rescue as fast as possible. I became completely absorbed by my ultimate battle in three months’ time, nothing else mattered. 

A week before the battle, I returned to the island and met him at the hospital. He was full of tubes and shrunken, only half of his healthy size. The doctor asked for a word with me in the hall. “We have no way to help him in his current condition, but we can produce a cloned monkey with some of his genetic material. Is it an outcome that you can accept?” 

A wave of nausea overcame me, yet I resisted. I couldn’t make myself say no. “Yes, I can accept that.” After leaving the hospital, I paced about the island slowly, and received the monkey before I stepped on to the teleporter. 

Once I returned to the main map, I spent the last week of my pre-battle life with my husband at home. I built a nest for the monkey on my reading desk. It was still in its infancy, with pinkish skin and too little hair, always looking out of the window, sipping milk. 

I woke up early on the day of the battle, kissed my husband and the monkey goodbye in their sleep, put on my invisible armour and fetched my sword in the basement, then took the bus to go to the central park. The park appeared to be a post-industrial wasteland under the spell of the final boss. Amid the mirage, he glowed a multitude of colours like a chameleon, many phalluses emerged out of his cloud-like body. This monster was the internal demon born out of the desires of this world; he had no physical body. I started dealing my blows following the standard procedure, and he fought back at the same pace. Our battle was predestined and not a consequence of mutual hatred. In an ambience of mutual respect and serenity, the battle attained a delicate equilibrium. 

I knew that I would come out of this triumphant. I also knew what would happen once I defeated the internal demon: the world would go on as usual, and I would become an enlightened being, who has abandoned all worldly desires, just like dad as he left.

 

Author: Wenxin Zhang  

Translator: Dan Peng

DO NOT PUBLISH OR USE WITHOUT NOTICE.

 

虚拟海岛

我有很长一段时间活在单机游戏的世界。1999,世纪末,有一个应景的游戏叫虚拟人生,主角站在地图的格子里兢兢业业地过日子,上学、毕业、打怪兽、接任务、买装备、工作、结婚、买房子装修、提升技能,最后打败终极大魔王拯救人类。 

我并不关心人类的命运,我喜欢主角去度假的海岛。那海岛上永远是黄昏,风声伴着沙发音乐卷起浪花拍打礁石,椰子树歪斜地长在海岸望着水中的自己,主角心不在焉地在格子里走着,他的时间在这海岛上停止,世界柔软地蜷缩成一团,生而打大魔王的悲剧宿命也再记不清了,既定的结局被冲淡、被摊薄、被研碎,生命的意义成了一声遥远含糊的口号。 

我去到那里的时候,只看到一条大概十米长的血迹。没有手机、没有钱包、没有字条,只有一个装满换洗衣物的手提箱和几张收据。 
“事发时是下午一点三十分左右,从收据上看,距他停靠在上一个收费站只有十五分钟。” 不知道警探为什么要告诉我们这些。据说在他丧失意识之前,接受过一个恰好路过的女记者的采访,我们都没有去找那段报道。这个决定下得很快,几乎是出自本能。这么多年过去了,那段报道想来是变成了数据碎片,也许还能在某个没有更新系统的windows XP电脑里被五十美元的还原软件搜到一个字节。 

我又一格一格地走在海岛上,眼前的所有都覆着一层接近橘色的金光。除了岸边的礁石,海岛接近无限平,一眼就能望到边界,即一个离我五十步左右的瞬间转换器。站到上面时,我会被一阵发亮的微风包围,然后嗖一下回到那个你死我活的世界。 

我掷着骰子,听着海岛的自带音乐,来到一辆破捷达旁。我打开车门,他的额头正中间被碎挡风玻璃刺出了一个洞,正汩汩地流着血。他张开口说: 
“真疼。 
我要走了。” 
我忽然间觉得自己并不认识他,他脸变得苍白的时候,熟悉的温暖感也被剥离而去,而那才是我在人海中辨识他的主要依据。丧失温度后,他便轻易地混同于所有人 – 
街上的人、高架桥上的人、地铁中的人、办公楼里的人、逛商场的人、游览名胜的人、聚众喝酒的人、打麻将的人、蒸桑拿的人 、河边散步的人、山顶眺望的人、冬夜煮酒的人、寻花问柳的人、征战沙场的人。 

我一边琢磨着一边被转回了主地图。我新买的房子已经铺好了木地板,下一个骰子把我带到家具店,我用打败小恶魔们挣来的钱买了一张樱桃木大床,当晚便和丈夫在新房住下。梦里我在北加州一个手机信号不能到达的小镇桥北寻找聚居于此的贾姓一脉。我推着自行车挨家挨户地问着。镇民们的脸上都带着隐晦之色,“没有了,他们都没有了。”我留下了眼泪,眼泪长长的, 我用手接,却都从手心满溢了出来,长长地垂到了地上。我为什么要为一群毫不认识的人的灭族感到悲哀呢? 

那日之后我忙着提升技能,半年过去了,各项数值却还不太理想,我被越来越迫近的终极之战压得喘不过起来,便买了个骰子指定器来到了海岛。 

在海岛上玩了几个接金币、丛林射击的小游戏后,我看到他远远地朝我走来。他头发灰白,瘦得有点虚弱。我不知道该对他说什么,但心里已满是喜悦。我知道他死了,被烧成了滚烫的骨而后变为成冷却的灰,但他现在活着和他以前死了好像也不是很冲突。 
“你都去哪儿了?”我有点儿不合时宜地拉起他的手。 
“美国。我否定了自己的一生,于是去那儿刷了二十年盘子。终日刷盘子才是属于我的生活。” 
我知道自己也属于被他否定的部分,也许是被否定的一大部分。我突然感到喉头发紧,把双手在胸前环抱起来,书上说与人交谈时双手环抱是尴尬与胆怯的标志,于是我每次做这个动作时又会感到强烈的羞耻。 
“那你怎么回来了?”我其实已经不再关心了。 
“我得了癌症,想死在这里。”他在海岛花园的长椅上坐下。 

我掷骰子,向前走了六步,留他一人坐在长椅上。之后我开始掷双骰。以最快的速度回到了那个等待我去挽救的俗世。我不再分神玩乐,集中精力备战三个月后的终极之役。 

在终极之役前一周,我回到海岛,在海岛医院我见到了他。他全身插着管子,身形仿佛萎缩成了原先的一半。医生约我到走廊交谈。 
“我们对他的情况无能为力,但可以克隆一只带有他部分基因的猴子。 你能够接受这样的结果吗?” 
我感到一阵恶心,强忍住后,却发现自己说不出“不”这个字。 
“可以,我接受。” 
出了医院,我在海岛上缓慢地行走,在到达瞬间转换器之前接到了猴子。 

回到主地图世界后,战前的最后一周我在家中与丈夫度过。我在书桌上给猴子搭了个小窝,猴子还很幼小,稚嫩的皮肤稀疏的毛,总是不声不响地看着窗外喝牛奶。 

战役当天我起了个大早,亲吻了熟睡中的丈夫和猴子,去地下室穿戴好隐形的铠甲和剑,搭乘公交车来到街心公园。街心公园在魔王结界的作用下变作一片后工业主义废墟幻象,幻象中的魔王如蜥蜴一般变换着色彩,云一样的身体上凸起许多性器。魔王是由世间的欲望结成的心魔,没有实体。我开始中规中矩地发起攻击,魔王也不紧不慢地还击着,与它的战争毕竟只是缘于宿命,而非互相间的切肤仇恨。战役在和谐、互敬、舒缓的氛围下形成了一种奇妙的平衡。 

我知道自己会赢,我也知道我若是打赢了心魔会发生什么 – 这个世界将维持往日的平静,而我则会变成一个丢弃一切俗世欲望的完人,就像爸爸离开时那样。

 

作者:张文心

翻译:彭丹

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