BILLS ARE GREENER

The VR Corporation is proud to present the latest innovation for today's entertainment. More involved than any game, more gorgeous than any film, and more vivid than any novel: it's the Virtu-Life Neurointerface System! Enjoy the life you've always wanted to live. Buy it today for $2,999.95 at your favorite commerce site!

Ronald watched the advertisement stream across a billboard. Flies scattered as he tilted his head back and groaned. Someone in a prim suit gave him a wide berth as they walked by him on the sidewalk. He scoffed at them, "What are ye? Afraid poverty's a communicable disease, are ye?" He fingered grime out of his beard.

He spotted a woman in a fantastically lavish coat. Ronald estimated it must be worth an exceptionally pretty penny. He moped toward her and called, "Heya! Pretty lady! Yeh, you!"

The woman glanced around, praying the vagrant was calling to anyone other than her. She replied, "You stay back from me!"

Ronald shoved his hand inside his jacket. "Gimme that coat! Take it off. Now! 'Afore I snatch it off of ye the hard way!" He watched spittle escape from the lips of his reflection in the woman's sunglasses.

Fear deadend the woman's pose; it was impossible to evade the warnings of homeless folk getting their hands on untended lethal arms. She complied and shook off the coat like it was alight. Ronald grinned a yellow smile and extended his free hand to receive it. He backed away from the woman before half-tripping into an alleyway, hugging the coat to himself tightly the entire way.

He chuckled, waited until he decided the woman must've gone, and went back onto the sidewalk. The sunlight glared harshly in his eyes while he searched the nearby storefronts for someplace that might buy a coat like this. Unsatisfied, he trekked on the sidewalk for some time, sulking under the stares of more well-to-do passers-by.

There was a clothing shop! Second-hand, too, by the looks of the out-of-date styles presented in the windows. A bell dinged when Ronald entered. He found a clerk and demanded, "I founded this coat. Gimme money for it!" The clerk only shook his head and pointed to a sign declaring that the store would not buy from unrespectable persons. A man in an intimidating uniform stepped out of a back room to answer his furious protests.

Dejected and angered, Ronald threw the coat down onto the floor and stormed out with another ding. He looked up at a billboard. It advertised, "Buy it today for $2,999.95 at your favorite commerce site!" He grumbled, noticed that he was hungry, and began looking for a restaurant dumpster that he could raid.

Ronald sat up and removed a polished-white helmet. He rubbed at his head and neatened his hair. He rubbed his cheeks to feel the smoothness of them. "Don't worry," the saleswoman said, "it's normal to feel disoriented coming out of the simulation."

Ronald looked at her through wearied eyes. "It was like I was really living the VR. I really thought I was poor."

The saleswoman nodded. "It's all elementary neurointerfacing." She smiled warmly and tapped at the glowing screen she held. "Shall I put in your order?"

"No," Ronald replied. "I think I've changed my mind."

"Are you sure? You could define another environment if you wanted."

Ronald declined.

"Oh?" The saleswoman tapped. "Why did you change your mind? Pardon me, it's just regulation that I ask."

Ronald got off of the VR-bed and stretched his arms. He inflected silently before leaving without giving an answer. "Thanks, sorry to have spent your time," he said.

He found a man hunkered down in an alleyway beside a rummaged-through garbage bin. Ronald mumbled unintelligible apologies and emptied the bills from his wallet for him. He looked the messily-dressed man in the eye and pursed his lips like he was about to say something. He walked away.

Written by Sophie Kirschner