“[E]very move was anticipated, tracked, bought, and sold before it had even happened.” — Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism

Hyde was staring away from the screen into the dark room now, trying not to curse. The rot in his stomach clouded his body with a floating potential pain. The face forcefully lit on the screen in front of him was like his own. It stared back. A pudgy man, presenting a poorly-shaven chin and eyes which were melting down his face from the little sleep he got. While snapping his eyes back from the darkness to the fogged light of the monitor, he raised the phone back to his ear. “Ya checked the laundry room?” Hyde breathed out into the receiver, directed at the man on screen. Cold black and white scratches warped the screen in moments. The face back on the screen moved his lips and speech fuzzed out of the phone. Hyde stared back at the monitor and begrudgingly listened to the phone in his hand. He waited for the phone speaker’s grainy air to succumb to silence. “Check the old khakis,” Hyde demanded while holding the phone closer. The distorted face on the monitor stepped an inch back out of the light, which could only be interpreted as concealment of embarrassment. The loud clacking of the phone back in its cradle only gave more power to the silence and darkness that followed and filled his small room. Behind the console was a violent green and blue buzzing ad falling in through the window. The ad outside, high above bands of lit streets, looped again. All the motions were limited in that endlessly looping advertisement. Stretches of time could only be measured by the cycle of ads on that burning screen. The room no longer needing a change in decor or paint, the walls shifted color schemes along with the ad’s projection. In his world, there was no roof directly above him for protection nor a ground floor, only more context. That world seeped under his eyelids while he began to sleep in a bed along with stains and wrinkles of fabric.

The next day, small blocks of late, hazed evening light stretched again from the windows to the floors. What geometric walls weren’t hidden by the shadows from thick blinds shown a somber coffee tone. After the shower, Hyde’s hand reached for his key on the nightstand, but encountered only air. His head scanned back and forth as his eyes swept the room. His arm reached through folds and his legs kicked over trash on the floor in the search. He caved into booting up the monitor faster than usual. After the quick warm-up, he grasped the phone and moved it to his ear. “Where are the keys?” he asked with the phone tucked into his neck as he pretended to glance about the room as if he was still looking. The backlit face that answered him underneath the static of the screen scratched an exhausted eye and proceeded to glance beyond the camera. Returning his eyes to the camera, he mumbled a question through the phone on his side of the screen. The static words reached him: “I did,” Hyde replied to the screen, “checked it after I got out of the shower.” The tired man on the monitor snapped back a reply. As soon as the electric face’s answer hit him, Hyde felt a blush of embarrassment. He stepped back from the screen and looked through the cramped hall to a pair of khakis draped over the washer in the next room.

A few minutes after the screen went abruptly blank, he had the fragment of a blurred memory from a few days ago (maybe more, maybe less) of taking that call the system predicted he would make just then and asking where the keys were. The faint thought which drifted towards the past was the only indication that the video he had just viewed wasn’t procedurally generated and was, in fact, a recording of himself. More and more he gave up trying to decipher whether the calls were recorded from earlier or algorithmically predicted.

His old, dirty khakis dropped to the floor while the key he found in their pocket felt cold in his hand. His arms slipped through sleeves of a brown jacket, and while he was moving his key up to his door to release the thick electric bolts, the phone rang behind him. Slapping the key down onto an adjacent end table, he stepped up to the console and withdrew the phone. Before it reached his ear, the speaker was already distantly blaring in his hand. While he slowly raised it, the sound of wind whipping the receiver cracked out of the speaker. The motion of his hand ceased as he looked towards the monitor. There the lit screen lay in front of him, unmoving besides an occasional snap and shift of drifting static. Only another room in his apartment that contained a console could be seen, the lack of his generated or recorded self was an instant shock. His breathing returned as his brain now forced itself upon the anomaly. He had heard rumors of landlords illegally hiring engineers to meddle with algorithms to clear out unwanted tenants; could this be some hacking job? A prank? His fear sprung from prediction to prediction. “He’s in there, with you,” a small, compressed voiced screamed. A cold circle sped up his arm like a laser from the hand now seemingly crushing the plastic phone. The phone slowly resumed its path up to his ear. “…Who? What is this?” wisped out of Hyde’s mouth into the receiver. “I—” wind slashed over the voice’s words. “He’s here, he’s—!” he heard the voice claim. “Someone else is inside.” The fizzing of the electric wind echoed uninterrupted in the small room for a time when the speaker suddenly let out “Shit no…NO!” The blasting wind changed to a clacking of concrete as a dreadful scream was snapped off by the cutting of the line and the screen switched to backlit black. The console only softly buzzed now. The small pattering of rain like wrinkling plastic was on the green- and blue-lit window now. The space had lost those hard-red rays of sun from earlier. Hyde stood, he did not move. Through neon angles, the shadows grew darker. His insides sped up to a hot pace. The black rectangle passage to the foyer was the escape route, he thought. His step-by-step process began towards that bleak zone. Blindly clamoring over furniture, his hand stretched out and batted over the lamp on the end table. The fingers tangled all about the lamp seeking the switch. He felt the click of the light and its small illumination let the shadows of the objects on the table dance, except for the key’s. Desperate hands slipped down pocket after pocket after pocket. He couldn’t move his eyes around the room for fear of encountering something that didn’t belong. A movie played in his mind of his motions from the khakis to the door to the phone looped like the advertisement. He searched the images for where he had laid it. Had the stranger taken it? He paused on that idea; it was too hot and refused to be analyzed. His eyes spread out in the room trying to liberate corners from darkness, yet it all pushed back. Only one option dimly presented itself: the balcony which gripped the back end of the concrete tower. It was no guarantee of safety, but it was, at the least, an escape from these walls. He had to move. Little pixels of cold dotted his legs and arms under his clothes. After he slowly rose, his shoes slipped down a hallway and the stairs at the end of the passage came up to meet him. Before he climbed, he skimmed the walls; an object penetrated him. The spike of fear only lasted for a moment. What had filled his legs with adrenaline was only his long mirror propped up against a wall. His own dimly lit figure stood there. As a nervous laugh almost appeared on his lips, he turned his head back towards the stairs only to see his reflection neglect to do the same.

The stairs tried to trip him as he stamped and stumbled upwards faster and faster; his hand slipped off the banister, leaving sweat. The door to a closet couldn’t open fast enough, and yet he had found himself inside reflecting on whatever relief he could muster which was sparse. He had a racking breath that he held aloft for the sake of silence.

After however long it took his clothes to be entirely consumed by sweat, he gained some inclination to move. His knees snapped onto the floor. The door to the closet slid open slowly to a slit to reveal hallways leading to nowhere in particular and doors edging along smooth grey walls. No movement. He breathed in deep and held on to it as parts of his body found themselves one by one outside the closet. A sharp buzzing hum of a vehicle muffled by concrete floated by outside. Its golden lights faded in and out window by window along rooms and hallway. As soon as the light left, he moved. Rooms passed along his sides. Some filled with monitors and glowing surfaces and others with darkness and loose ends. The advertisement looking in shifted now from green and blue to red and violet. The change now shifted the coating of the apartment. After a turn, he saw in front of him a different light. The red and violet along with their shadows were fading towards the end of the hall into a more diverse and vibrant light emanating from the city in a room where the glass door to the balcony lay. The hesitation fell away and he ran towards the light.

The room contained the other monitor. He felt some responsibility and a vague demand to warn himself of the danger. While he shifted and chipped his fingernails moving the metal lock of the door to the balcony, he had the phone in between his shoulder blade and ear. It rang, and before any answer could come through the cold speaker, he had managed to unhinge the old lock. The doors whipped open in exaltation and the cold bellowed in, snapping his clothes. He heard the ring stop midway while glaring over the iron bars on the edge of the balcony down towards the streets. Frantically, he looked on the outer walls for an escape route. The rain was slowly building puddles at his feet. He slowly glanced into the faded room and hall and said “He’s in there, with you,” into the phone. He couldn’t be sure of a reply due to the scratching of the sharp wind which almost subdued all other noises. While still maintaining his glance, he spoke again. “I don’t know where—” did something move in the room? “He’s here, he’s—…” “Someone else is inside.” His eyes went wide as the motion grew into a man. Time couldn’t be measured as the figure continued to grow and move towards him. The light struck the features and it presented a face which looked nothing like his own. The iron bars hit his back and bent a degree. He lowered the phone to his chest and all he could manage was “Shit, no.” In an instant, the men’s hands were on him, creased around the folds of his jacket, trying to force him off the ledge. With some motions, no one could have seen as the two shifted and whirled, and as each man tried to give the other the fall, the rusted iron bars completely gave out. “No!” was all that was heard as the phone and both men slipped. A black shape flew along with the wind as it fell towards the street.

Hyde’s fingers were on fire as he held on and they continued to burn after he finally managed to heave himself up onto the balcony. Over the ledge, he only saw the city in its industrial motion as if nothing had happened. He stood there for a time. As he moved back inside with his hands in the sides of his jacket, he felt the key, in a pocket he must not have checked.