Marcus sat on the park bench, a dull ache etched into the back of his head. Today, the feeling was like hands pulling tendons of stretched rubber. The strain would hold until the inevitable snap. He closed his eyes, and as the afternoon sunlight brightened his eyelids, he forgot, for a moment, why he was there.
When he opened his eyes again, the large billboard was visible above the treetops, stapled to the side of a crumbling building. The colors did not look faded but aged and sickly, white molded into sun-stained yellow. It must have been one of the first, and no one thought, or bothered, to take it down. The digital ones were everywhere in the city now and this relic remained as a fossilized record of an earlier iteration, a dead branch in the advancing evolution.
Luminex. The smiling faces on the billboard were still frozen in the haunted stillness of their unchanging happiness. “It will change your life,” the writing would have informed you if the letters were not cracked, broken and illegible. New ones were better at dramatizing a changing life. There would be a compelling montage, a typified assortment of values to let the audience make the correct and necessary associations. It would never advertise anything so pedestrian as a specific procedure. This billboard froze an emotion in time, like it was a photo in the album of your already happier life – with Luminex.
The original advertisements were like dreamy vacations. Picturesque beaches – no seaweed washed upon the unraked sand, no outgoing tide of sweating bodies, no garbage swept up by the breeze, no cawing and vulturous birds – only a bright sun, impossibly clear water, and unfettered contentment. Luminex was an undiscovered paradise to be found apart from the dreary disease of everyday life. And in some ways, it was a vacation.
He got up from the bench, the headache beginning to subside. He had read stories about people addicted to Luminex. They were rare cases and marginal opinions, people issuing grave and ominous warnings. The same tired warnings on all new technologies. The addicts were better explained by some other underlying and unrelated condition, and they did not gather much attention anyway. It was a niche group that could afford Luminex, let alone re-live its supposed addiction. Alongside wealth, sympathy was rare, and it was a spectacle to watch money burn.
They must have sad lives, he thought.
He was on Fifth street now, walking and nearing his skyrise building. He avoided the walls of advertising, nearly the size of buildings themselves, a maze of walk-through cinemas. When he reached his lobby, he took the soulless elevator flight to his floor.
He checked his messages and then checked them again. Nothing new from last time, and he sat down in the corner of his long L-shaped sofa. He thought he should call someone and make an effort. He scanned his contacts, choosing an old colleague – a friend. They had been close once, he remembered, and the call connected immediately.
The voice on the other end was momentarily surprised. When Marcus started asking questions, ordinary questions, the tone turned clipped, impatient, even exasperated. The call ended quickly, and Marcus sat listless and confused in the corner of his couch.
He knew what the problem was. It was clear even though he attempted to think around it, avoiding its gravitating presence. Perhaps, he had been waiting for someone to talk him out of it. He believed that’s why he read the rare cases, the failures, the car wrecks – he wanted to convince himself there was a reason avoid it. In short, he knew he was considering Luminex.
Marcus had even read their terms, their caveats, their warnings, their admissions of possible harm and their exculpatory evidence. He felt he had it memorized. The third-party warnings said Luminex would distort the brain’s chemistry beyond repair – emotions would never be felt the same again. Each time would be chasing the next impossible re-creation of the first, each time with diminishing success. He believed the concerns were overstated. There was nothing inherently addictive about it. There was nothing so sinister. Luminex had even been to court in the early days, in the days of the billboard. It was a refined science now. Clinical and precise. Risks were low.
He knew he was talking himself up, but what were the true risks? He looked around the dark gloom of the spacious apartment. He had forgotten to turn the lights on when he came home.
Repeat users were warned about the potential after-effects that were part of the recovery – it did not need to be a concern for it was stated upfront. It affected memory. The experience was an overload and users felt disorientated afterwards, prominent voids of memory could become apparent. But the experience itself was a revolution. Every first-time user claimed that it changed their life, that they never experienced anything the same way again, but not in a diminishing way. The addicts were rare.
He was curious, that’s all it came down to. The growing unease of his life had reached a critical point, and he drifted into a restless sleep, having dreams of another life.
The next morning, he woke with the decision solidified into his thoughts. It permeated through him. He would see what Luminex was truly like.
He called his regular driver and was waiting outside when the car rolled up. He said the location, and his driver looked at him for a long moment but then shrugged and drove. Marcus ignored him. He was finally feeling elevated. A decision had been made. He was free from the eternal hedging that plagued him. He smiled for what felt like the first time in days.
Some time later, Marcus sat on the park bench, a dull ache etched into the back of his head. Today, the feeling was like hands pulling tendons of stretched rubber. The strain would hold until the inevitable snap. He closed his eyes, and as the afternoon sunlight brightened his eyelids, he forgot, for a moment, why he was there.