A Break-In Reality
“Ye’ think he’ll hear us?”
“Uh, not sure, bro. Depends on how loud his game is. He’s definitely not gonna see us.”
They were crouched right outside a sliding glass door, two men dressed in jeans and hoodies; one was advertising Caterpillar Equipment, the other Call of Duty’s latest title. Their faces were obscured by bandanas which hung loosely off the tips of their noses. One was Blue, the other White.
“He didn’t hear us climb up here. I’m bettin’ we could get in and out without him noticing,” said Blue.
The man with the White bandana over his face hunched his shoulders against the evening chill and adjusted his stance, reaching a hand out to balance himself against the wooden banister that ringed the second floor concrete porch they crouched upon. It jutted, like a lower lip, from the side of the apartment building, providing a slim square of covered, outside space for the room they assessed, through the sliding glass door.
“Totally, if we’re quiet and fast enough. We just gotta do it all before he takes the headset off,” White cautioned.
Together, the two men stared for a moment longer at the third man, the one on the inside of the sliding glass door, standing in the middle of a sparsely furnished living room, lit solely by an Edison style sconce on the far wall. His hands held a set of bulbous, TV remote-like objects with thick, black plastic rings extended over the backs of his hands; the man’s upper face, everything from his nose to his forehead, was covered with the curved profile of a similarly semi-gloss black, thick visor device.
“What’d ye’ say it was?” asked Blue, “A var headset?”
White laughed. “Nah, bro,” he said, “VR. It stands for Virtual Reality.”
“Seems like a dumb way to play games, strappin’ ‘em to yer face like that.”
“Bro, don’t knock it till you try it. It’s actually fucking awesome.”
Blue cocked an eyebrow at his partner, pulling a slim pry bar from the grey duffle bag on his shoulder, as he incredulously asked, “When the hell’ve ye’ tried one of them?”
White shrugged. “Kevin’s kid got one. Last time we were hanging out, the little brat forgot his chores so Kev’ took the headset and we ended up having a few brews and playing on it in the garage. I was totally buzzed but, like I said bro, it’s pretty fucking awesome. Takes you to all sorts of different worlds and shit.”
“Huh,” grunted Blue, unimpressed. “Well, we doin’ this or not?” He asked, slapping his gloved palm lightly with the pry bar.
“Yeah, bro. I say let’s do it. Most of those VR games are super immersive, so all we gotta do is be real quiet. With him wearing it, it’s prolly gonna be the only thing we can’t take.” White rubbed his own gloved hands together, partly because he was cold, partly out of excitement for the challenge. He always got a thrill from the break-in.
Blue gave another soft grunt, this time in acknowledgment and placed the pry bar in the seam between the sliding glass door and its aluminum frame, preparing to pop the lock out of place. As he torqued the pry bar the door slid smoothly, and almost silently, opened a couple inches. It was unlocked and seemingly, very well oiled.
“Easy as virtual pie,” whisper-giggled White to his partner.
With very careful movements, the duo opened the door just enough to slip through, before closing it gently behind them; they didn’t want the draft of cold air to alarm the guy. Blue waved to White, motioning for him to follow into the small kitchen area that was directly to the left of the living room, separated by a thin sheetrock wall. As White took a cautious step in the direction indicated, the guy in the middle of the room turned to face them, thrusting his bulbous, black controllers together out in front of himself and commanded, his voice nasally from the headset resting on the bridge of his nose, “Freeze!”
They both froze; Blue had almost made it to the kitchen, one New Balance clad foot on the linoleum, one still on the living room’s carpet. They exchanged glances and White could tell that they were both having the same thought—Can he see us? Fruitlessly, they scanned his face for any sign of recognition; but after a moment the guy spoke again and their worries were abated.
“What?! I definitely didn’t pull the trigger, fucking cop simulator.” The guy relaxed his stance and shrugged his shoulders, promptly reaching out in front of himself to select some invisible something that Blue and White couldn’t see.
White tiptoed after his partner into the kitchen, as the guy in VR loudly said, “Fine then. Time for a good ‘ol medieval murder sesh instead.”
“Jesus Christ, does Kev’s kid say shit like that?” Softly whispered Blue to his partner, safely in the kitchen and separated from the murderous gamer. White shrugged and made a face, trying hard not to laugh aloud at the VR guy’s comment to himself. After a shake of the head, Blue pointed at his chest and then down the hall on the other side of the kitchen. “Imma go search the back rooms,” he quietly said.
White nodded, and whispered back, “Okay, bro. I’ll get what I can here.”
As Blue moved into the hall and towards where they unspokenly had assumed the bedroom to be, White began to very carefully and very gently, open the cupboards in the kitchen, one by one. The goodies he found, went into his own duffle—a green and yellow Nike bag—that he had, slung over his shoulder. The immersion blender? In it went. The palm-sized food processor? In it went. The Cuisinart mixer? In it went; although he sagged a little with its weight.
He found a bounty of snacks: crackers and poptarts and chips and cookies and some Japanese chocolate things that White squinted confusedly at. Didn’t matter. In it all went. In the last series of cabinets he searched, White gleefully poured half a dozen liquor bottles into his bag; careful to situate the packaged snacks in between them to prevent the glass from clinking together or against the appliances. Of course, he took a pull or two from one of them before packing it away: vodka, a halfway decent one at that.
From the living room, White heard a shuffle of feet and a thud. “Shit,” came the VR guy’s voice. Tiptoeing to the edge of the dividing wall, White peaked carefully around, checking to see if their host was still engaged in his game. He was indeed. The guy was rising from a crouched superhero-pose; evidently, something had gone wrong with the maneuver he had attempted. Or maybe he had just stubbed his toe in the process.
Reassured, White carefully moved into the carpeted hallway, dodging the rustling leaves of a houseplant on an end table by the dividing wall. With his duffle bag clenched tightly before him, he stepped to the hall closet; Blue had passed it by. Glancing once more at the living room, he very slowly slid the closet door open. Its rails were, like the glass door, well oiled. Evidently the VR guy took good care of his shit.
Without hesitation, White quickly grabbed several pairs of shoes, one scuffed leather pair of Timberland half-boots and two sets of rainbow-patterned Adidas sneakers, and tossed them into his bag. Then, after a second’s thought, he gently set his duffle on the ground and tried on a coat in the closet that caught his interest. It was a little tight in the shoulders. Regardless, in it went. The black North Face fleece and generic-looking, yellow raincoat also went in. A collapsed fly fishing rod was propped in the closet’s corner. In it went, along with the compact tackle box next to the rod. White had always wanted to try fly fishing.
He didn’t spot anything else of immediate interest in the shallow nook so he moved further down the hall, to the back bedroom to check in on his partner.
Blue turned to him as White entered the room, a tight but well furnished bedroom with a comfy looking bed and a compact work desk with a shiny, silver Macbook on its surface.
“Look at all these pills the guy had in his bathroom,” Blue said quietly to White, holding his duffle bag open for his friend to inspect.
White peered in at the plastic bottles which nestled an electric toothbrush and beard trimmer in their midst and cocked an eyebrow. He whispered back, “Bro, half of those look like vitamins.”
Blue furrowed his brow and glanced into the duffle himself, shrugging after a moment’s consideration. “Well, whatever. That shits still expensive,” he decided. Blue then motioned White towards the closet, saying to him, “Go ahead and check in there, I’ve already piled up most of his good shit from the main room.” Behind Blue, on the VR guy’s queen-sized mattress, was a pile of assorted electronics and odd, potentially collectible looking items: headphones and bluetooth speakers and chunky, still perfectly packaged plastic dolls with bright yellow text reading, “POP,” in all caps on their faces.
White nodded and muttered in agreement and moved to the closet while Blue finished loading his duffle with the pilfered goods. In the closet, White found a few more of the square-boxed “POP” dolls and a couple plastic files of documents—which he determined after a quick rifle, he wasn’t interested in—but besides the clothing, there was little else of value.
As Blue positioned the Macbook laptop and its charging cord reverentially into the top of his duffle bag, White once more placed his bag on the ground and tried on a couple more pieces of the VR guy’s clothing. None of the shirts looked like White’s personal style, but a few name brands jumped out at him and those he snagged. The Calvin Kleins and Patagonias and even the one Supreme T-shirt, all went in.
With both their bags once more over their shoulders, Blue and White left the bedroom; the only things untouched were the mattress, the desk and the accompanying chair. They simply were too big to move silently. Together, they crept down the carpeted hall and towards the living room, the last area of the apartment they had left to search.
Standing abreast with the dividing wall between the kitchen and their quarry, Blue and White assessed the guy in the middle of the room once more. He danced about, slashing his hands wildly in the air in great, arching loops. It looked like he was trying to skewer some massive imaginary creature with a spear; his head was tilted back, his controllers and arms stiffly held apart about shoulder width, his body twisting with every lunge forward. Sweat rolled down the visible portions of his face in beads.
“I figure I can grab the TV if ye’ can get that computer right there,” very quietly whispered Blue to White, nodding at the flatscreen against the living room’s far wall first and then to a glass paneled, glowing red computer tower on the ground next to the TV’s glossy metal stand. There were perhaps one or two other items in the living room worth snagging, like the wood paneled stereo speakers in the corners of the room or the set of dumbbells by the couch behind the VR guy; but the electronics Blue had pointed to were definitely the easiest, and most valuable to grab.
White nodded and began to tiptoe towards the crimson computer, barely noticing as Blue stealthy cut through the kitchen, around the other side of the madly slashing, stabbing and shadow boxing guy in the center of the room, and towards the TV. Unlike the computer, the TV wasn’t on and Blue had little trouble disconnecting the power cord and pulling the decently sized flatscreen free. He began to move back towards the front door, like White, having already determined it’d be faster, easier and probably quieter to lug all their shit out the front and to their van as directly as possible.
For his part, White glanced about the computer. There wasn’t a monitor hooked up to it, although there was a cord that dangled loosely in the direction the TV had formerly resided. Likewise there was a mouse and keyboard on the metal stand, a shelf below where the TV had been. Putting it together with a squint and a frown, White reasoned that the computer probably was just idling; that the TV had gone to sleep and the glowing tower had been left on whenever the guy had first immersed into his VR session.
White first unplugged the mouse and keyboard, stashing them in the little remaining space in his duffle bag. Then, he moved the computer tower forward and reached for the power switch.
With a small jump, a one hundred and eighty degree spin and a simultaneous kick, punch and shrill yell of, “Hiiiiiiyyaaa!” the VR guy leapt across the living room and smashed the potted plant by the dividing wall. Both Blue and White jumped in surprise at the violent movement from the guy, but only White involuntarily swore.
“What the shit—” White let slip, far too loudly.
The VR guy frowned, rubbing at his foot, hunched over in the corner of the living room. “What?” he confusedly asked the room. He moved to raise his headset and look about; although he was facing away from Blue and White, the motion still triggered the instinct they had both been keeping in check since entering the apartment.
“Run!” bellowed Blue, already at the front door, his gloved fingers fumbling with the deadbolt. White hurriedly scooped up the still glowing desktop, ignoring its power cord stretching towards the wall and ran; he barely felt the tug of it popping free from its plug.
“What the fuck?!” said the VR guy, terror and confusion lacing his voice. He whipped off his headset as Blue finally got the door open and hurried down the stairs towards the parking lot outside, the TV tucked crookedly under his arm. White was close on his heels, about to cross the threshold when a shard of broken ceramic from the potted plant slipped him up and he fell face first, sandwiching the red computer tower between his body and the concrete stoop right outside the door. He heard glass shatter.
“What the fuck! My computer!” squealed the VR guy, his eyes wide, his hands clasped above his head. He watched, frozen helplessly by shock and fright in the corner of the living room.
White, his limbs infused with his own strain of lightning like adrenaline/terror cocktail, bolted upright, throwing his suddenly damp, whiskey-scented duffle bag back into place over his shoulder and picked up the now cracked computer case. Then, in a panic, he shot-putted it over the railing of the concrete stoop and into the parking lot below.
“What the fuck!” the guy yelled again.
“I don’t know, bro!” screamed White in reply as he sprinted out the door. He stopped only to grab the fully smashed computer tower from where it had landed, before diving into the open side door of their white panel van. A couple loose vitamin bottles and a single, rainbow-patterned Adidas sneaker bounced out of the open van door before White managed to slam it shut. Behind the driver’s seat, Blue punched the gas and they peeled out of the little cul-de-sac parking lot.
Discarded like the furniture they had deemed not worth the effort, the guy stood rooted to the second story stoop before the open door to his apartment. His black VR controllers dangled, forgotten, from the safety straps around his wrists. Tears streamed down his cheeks, soothing the irritated impression his headset had left on his face. He saw as the twin tail lights of the panel van disappeared around the corner. He heard the roar of the engine fade slowly into the evening.
Willow J. Fields (he/him) recently received a bachelor’s degree in Political History from The Evergreen State College, having supplemented his major with Russian culture and folklore literature. At home in Washington State, he maintains a private writing and recording practice while continually striving to incorporate distant subject matters, from Virtual Reality to abnormal psychology, into his passion for fiction.