“What Kingdom?” Matt yanked his hand out of the woman’s filthy hands. He hoped she didn’t think it was rude; the reflex was a direct reaction to her grabbing him when he did not expect it. Luckily she didn’t seem offended. She stood from her nest of frayed, discolored blankets and cardboard and smiled at Matt.
“THE Kingdom. It’s another world where you can live the life you want in the body you choose,” The grey-haired woman said. She gestured for Matt to follow her with a tilt of her head; then she started walking to the nearby alleyway. Matt was headed home; but, he was in no hurry. He had a stressful day at work that very nearly cost him his job but he lived alone. His house was lonely and empty; he decided that a few extra minutes of human interaction would do him good. He followed the homeless woman around the corner. She encouraged him through a hole in the chainlink fence from the other side. “C’mon!” she said excitedly. Matt paused in the alley and looked both ways. People went about their business walking by and ignoring the alleyway. Matt shrugged then squeezed through the hole.
By the time he got through the fence, the woman was standing inside an open doorway waving him in. She led him through a maze of dim, narrow hallways in the building until they reached something that reminded Matt of the break room at work. Several small round tables decorated the cozy room. A refrigerator and counter with a microwave rested against one side of the room. A broken TV hung in the top corner of the opposite wall. Bright, but tiny, LED lights on the counter and tables did their best to illuminate the area. The homeless woman sat down and gestured for Matt to sit across from her.
“Three years ago…,” she said looking into Matt’s eyes. “…you gave me five dollars. I pay attention to everyone that donates. I’ve been watching you since that first day.” Matt’s eyes widened. He was surprised but did not know what to do with that information yet. He kept silent and listened. You’ve seen me almost every day. Sometimes you donate, sometimes you don’t; just like everyone else.” She smiled a bright, white, clean smile. Matt was surprised; he initially assumed her teeth to as unhealthy but he realized he’d never seen her smile before. “But you’re different. You always donate some of what you have, when you have extra money.”
“Huh?” Matt began to worry about what she knew about his finances.
“Like today. You had a horrible day, almost got fired. For most people that’d be enough cause to hold what they have tighter. You donated anyway. That’s why I picked you to go to The Kingdom today.” Matt stood from the table and backed up toward the door.
“How did you know that? How do you know about my finances?” The woman smiled. The room went black for a second, then light returned. Instead of the weak, blue LED light, a brilliant orange sun hung low in the sky. Matt was no longer in the small, rundown break room. He stood outside in a field of swaying amber wheat. The old woman stood in front of him; the table she sat at was nowhere to be seen.
“I told you, I’ve been watching you.” She spread her arms wide to gesture at the endless sea of grains. “Welcome to the-“
“Welcome to the AlterNet!” A black mannequin coalesced next to the old woman; it spoke with a feminine voice. The old woman sighed.
“Manual mode,” she said. The mannequin disintegrated into white powder as fast as it formed. The powder disappeared before it touched the ground.
“Welcome to the Kingdom!” the homeless woman said.