FOR A MOMENT HE WAS NOT QUITE SURE who or where he was.
He looked up from the pavement and suddenly realized that he was standing in front of a very posh looking restaurant. It was evening, he noted and all the city lights shone and winked in a dazzling array of colours.
For no apparent reason he found himself walking in to the restaurant. Like a man in a dream, he selected a table and seated himself, looking about the place in a daze. Before he had time to collect his wits and even begin to wonder what he was doing or indeed, who he was, a smartly dressed waiter approached.
“Good evening sir.”
He handed his customer a wine list. Then as if bowing to royalty, he leaned forward deferentially and said in a low, almost confidential tone.
“Now sir, do you wish to rest or rant?”
“Pardon? Rest or what? Ant or Rant?” He frowned and eyed the waiter suspiciously.
“Rant, sir! Rant! No one has anything to do with ants in this establishment.”
“Oh, I think I’ll just rest awhile. Bring me a coffee will you? Perhaps that’ll perk me up a bit. Then I can have a little rant. Heaven knows, I need one!”
He rolled his eyes heavenwards and shrugged.
“If I may be so bold, sir. Please don’t take too long in making your mind up.”
The waiter tilted his head towards the wall clock. “Ranting time’s over at eleven and it’s twenty five to, now.”
“Really? Then, why invite me to rant in the first place if that’s the case?”
“I have to ask all my customers, sir. It’s – the rules. But – I thought you’d -”
For the first time in this encounter the waiter seemed confused.
In fact, for a moment, he looked more like a machine running down than a human being hesitating. Then, zip! It was as if some invisible someone had just refitted him with a new battery. The waiter’s face suddenly brightened and he seemed to stand more erect.
“You’re testing me, of course.”
“I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about. This is all as new to me as though I’d just been born,” said the customer, who was still trying to puzzle out who he was.
Then as if some switch had just been thrown, the name Harry suddenly popped into his head. Is that my name, he wondered?
It certainly rang some familiar bell.
And the waiter’s name was on one of those silly little nametags that employees wear nowadays, rather spoiling the effect of his neat tuxedo. It wasn’t Harry, either. It was Geno something or other, which looked rather long and unpronounceable and distinctly Latin.
“Come on, sir. You’re toying with me,” said the waiter whose name was Geno.
“No I’m not,” replied the customer whose name might be Harry.
“I’ve never heard of anything so bizarre. A restaurant where the waiter asks you if you want to rest or rant.”
“I’m beginning to think that you really don’t know,” said the waiter.
“Don’t know what? I think I must have had some sort of accident. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing here. I’m not even sure who I am. I certainly don’t know where I am!”
“You’re in Crazyville!”
“Wha – at!”
“You’re in a computer simulated world, sir. A virtual reality program called Crazyville, created for entertainment and escapism.”
The waiter sighed and walking over to a letterbox-sized hatch in the wall, reached in. He returned to the table and handed a card to his customer, who studied it in stunned bewilderment, recognizing the photo of himself in one corner from the reflection he’d seen in the restaurant window earlier.
Slowly, haltingly, he read aloud from the card.
“My name is Harry. Harry Ormerod. I’m a computer program designer from the US, living in Britain.”
“I’m the inventor of the computer game, Crazyville.”
“Crazyville manifests itself in a number of ‘Wordplay’ versions.”
“Of which this virtual reality simulation is a spontaneous mutational variant.”
“It’s called, appropriately, Rest or Rant.”
Harry put the card down on the tabletop and groaned.
“I can’t remember how I got into this mutated permutation, which means it probably was an accident, hence my disorientation and amnesia.”
“So here I am inside this program, without the faintest idea of how to exit.”
“And I’m trapped in it!”
“Never mind, sir. If you sit here long enough it may all come back to you. Besides, you remembered your name by yourself.”
“Did I? How would you know? I never told you. Don’t tell me you can read my mind!”
“No such luck, sir. But I guessed right, I guess, judging by your answer. Anyway, you’re bound to think of something. After all, you’re the creator of the program.”
“Creating something’s one thing; being able to manage it afterwards is an entirely different matter. Parents create their offspring but can’t always control their subsequent development. They have wills of their own!”
“You’re known to have solved many tricky problems before in the computer environment.”
“That’s from the outside, by external means such as keyboard, mouse and disk. I’ve no control on the inside. It’s unexplored territory as far as I’m concerned.”
Harry looked at the wall clock. “Anyway it’s ten forty-five, you close in fifteen minutes.”
“No that’s when ranting finishes, sir. We don’t close till midnight.”
“And if I’ve not found any answers by then. What do I do? I don’t live here. I’ve got nowhere to go. And the nights will still feel as real and as cold and dark and long as the world I came from.”
“You have a suite reserved in your name at the Grand Hotel, sir. All paid for.”
“How do you know this?” The waiter touched the side of his nose.
“Ah. You’re famous here, sir. You created this world. Even though it’s mutated into an autonomous realm, you are nonetheless held in reverence.”
“Really?” Harry shook his head incredulously. “If only I could get out of this place, nonetheless.”
“Surely you’ve got a password for all unforeseen contingencies, sir.”
Harry snapped his fingers. “Geno,” he said. “You may well be a computer simulated genius.”
“Harry,” he said. Nothing!
“Ormerod!” Still nothing.
“Crazyville!” Not a sausage.
After several score or so of failed attempts, Harry slumped dejectedly in his seat, head in hands.
“Oh, damn! Damn! Damn! Damn! Dammit all! This could take forever!”
He stood up from the table and stared up at the restaurant ceiling searchingly.
He balled his fists and raised them, shaking them furiously at the ceiling.
He opened his mouth wide and yelled incoherently at the ceiling.
Then he cupped his hands to his mouth and called out in utter desperation.
And with a flash and a ping, Harry disappeared.