Samantha rolled the ball down the driveway. At the point where the driveway met the road, the ball popped out of existence. It popped into existence a foot later and continued rolling until it came to a stop in the gutter on the other side of the street.
“What the hell was that?” Damon demanded. She’d known him forever and a day, since they’d been in kindergarten together, but not as a friend-friend, just as a kid she knew from school.
“You saw it, too?” Samantha rocked back on her heels. She was kneeling at the top of the driveway, the garage of the big house right behind her, an expanse of perfectly-tended lawn beside her.
“That ball just disappeared! And then re-appeared!” Damon’s brown eyes were wide, as he gestured at the street, at her, and back at the street again.
Samantha smiled, relief infusing every cell of her body, and stood. “Thank God.”
“Thank God? You’re not religious.” Damon seemed almost as surprised by the words that had come out of her mouth as he was the disappearance of the ball. “Aren’t you one of the ones who protested the Pledge of Allegiance in 6th grade?”
“Yeah, that was then and this is now. I’m getting there.” Samantha stared at the end of the driveway. There was nothing to see. It looked perfectly ordinary. Long driveway, empty road, the neighbor’s house across the way. And the ball sitting in the gutter.
“Getting there? Because a ball disappeared?” Damon stuffed his hands into his pockets.
Samantha frowned pensively at the ball. “Maybe because it reappeared.” She started walking down the driveway.
“What are you doing?” Damon stood still for a second, then began to follow her, close on her heels. “You’re not going to walk through there, are you?”
“You can feel it,” she said. “But I haven’t managed to stop in it. It’s like something pushes me out.”
“Pushes you out?”
“Forces me to keep going,” she explained. “There’s a spot where you can tell for a minute — no, less than that. A second or two. It’s like being dizzy or something. Just for an instant, you’re in the wrong place. But then you’re back on the road.”
“Okay, that is really creepy.” Damon sounded worried.
Samantha shot a smile at him over her shoulder. His hair needed to be cut. It was getting shaggy. And his recent growth spurt had left his clothes a little too small for him, the cuffs on his jeans higher than they ought to be. But he was the only person in her entire class who’d been willing to listen to her.
Her friend Bee said it was just because he had the hots for her. If so, so what? He’d listened to her story, he’d acted interested, and he’d been willing to come over to the Jameson house and watch her experiment. And he’d seen the ball disappear and reappear.
But Samantha didn’t think he’d joined her because he was interested in her.
“What do you think it is?” she asked him.
He didn’t answer the question, instead asking one of his own. “Why is it making you religious?”
Samantha paused, several steps away from the spot where the ball had disappeared. She bit her lip. Excitement was tingling along her skin. This was important, she knew it.
“Religious might not be the right word,” she said slowly. “Maybe…” She glanced at him. He wasn’t looking at her. He was staring at the ball. But she could tell he was listening by the tension in his shoulders, the way they were hunched with his hands in his pockets.
If she was wrong…
“Faithful, I think would be the word,” she finished. “It’s caused me to develop faith in something outside the reality we know. And that… well, has made me start believing in God. Or maybe a lot of gods.”
He didn’t answer her immediately.
“You didn’t tell me what you think it is,” she said.
“I have no idea.” He shook his head, still not meeting her gaze.
Her heart sank and she couldn’t help the moue of disappointment that pursed her lips. Drat. Could Bee have been right? But when she’d been telling the story in class, there’d been something about the look in his eyes. An awareness.
“I think it’s a continuity error,” she said.
“A continuity error?” Now he glanced at her. Despite the gangling arms and legs, the clear skin, the youthful hair, his eyes looked knowing.
She grinned at him. “Yeah. See, I think this must be a simulation. One we’re living in, I mean.”
“Like the Matrix?”
He shook his head. “Just an old movie. Before your time, I guess.”
“Before my time? We’re the same age.”
“Yeah, but my dad’s a big fan of old movies.”
The explanation sounded plausible, but Samantha narrowed her eyes. “Anyway,” she said. “I think we’re living in a simulation. And that’s a bug. A glitch. Some minor error in the programming code.”
“Seriously?” A bird flew by overhead and Damon’s eyes flickered to it, as if the movement was distracting.
“Mmm-hmm.” Samantha turned back to the street. She felt just a little breathless. Would this work? “I think it’s a simulation and that means there are programmers, someone who created the simulation.”
“Oh, I get it.” Damon sounded intrigued. “You think the programmers are gods.”
“Exactly!” She lifted a shoulder in a shrug. “Think about it. If the world is a simulation, then the creators are basically gods. They can do anything, right? Except that there are rules that they’ve chosen to follow, so they keep the rules standard.”
“Or sort of standard, anyway.” Damon walked a couple steps closer to the road, frowning. “So what are you planning to do about it?”
“Ask for a job, of course.” Samantha laughed.
“Sure,” she nodded. “I figure I’m demonstrating my skill at discovering bugs. And that maybe, just maybe…” She took a deep breath. If she was right and Damon was a programmer in disguise, then for the first time, she expected that when she walked into the hole, something else would happen.
But what would it be?
She stepped into the place where the ball disappeared.