Episode 2 - Meet Aishi


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            Welcome back to Aishi Online. Last week, I reminded you what the internet used to be, and I told you about one of its more obscure corners. One that I just happened to find myself in. It was an unnamed game that we who played it called The Funhouse Hallway, and it was a game that didn’t make great deal of sense, and you would know that if you got to play it.

But I doubt that you did.

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            I’ve come to think Twitter is a weird-ish place. I like it. But it takes the performance aspect of the modern internet and lights it on fire. I say that because, well, I can’t decide if it adheres to those rules or not. It might all just be more extreme. We might be expected to be more of this perfect, 2-D figure. Or it might be impossible. All because of the stupid character limit, which stifles what we can say at any one instant but makes it easy to have many instances. Performances have to be simple, but we can have a lot of them.

            Maybe that’s why I started bleeding into that podcast account, that extension of my initial creation. I can tell you when it happened, but that’s about it. And that’s not all that helpful. For once, looking back isn’t that great of a tool. Actually it probably happens a lot. There are some things that hindsight won’t show you. Particularly when I know so little about my current state. I mean, on that Twitter account, I don’t know where I end and where Delphi begins. Not anymore. And she’s not even real.

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            Aishi didn’t say much to me at first. She was just in the small pool of names that greeted me and everyone else when we came onto on The Forum.

            But then someone else greeted her, as if her presence there couldn’t be guaranteed by any stretch of the imagination, as if she were gone so often that each return necessitated a reintroduction. I remember that. I noticed, but I was only stumbling into this world for the first and maybe last time. I hadn’t really decided yet if I would stay. The idea that people could gather around a relatively obscure thing on the internet was still a novel one for me. And slightly taboo, given some of the remarks my parents made that we’ve probably all heard.

            But The Forum was there, as proof of a general concept, but at the same time, it didn’t live up to rumors of a boogieman.

            My thoughts about leaving so soon weren’t unique. And that meant there was additional pressure to get every person who strayed onto The Forum to essentially dump from their notes or memory every text prompt, glitch, or theory—hastily assembled or otherwise—into this quasi-public domain that The Forum was before they disappeared.

            A lot of people disappeared, so to speak, from The Forum soon after finding it. But in time, we all would.

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            Back then, internet mysteries didn’t last as long. They were flashes in the pan because there wasn’t enough to sustain them. I’ve found that this process actually resembles fossilization: the conditions have to be just right for something to be preserved. Those conditions were impossible to achieve back then. Now, they’re not quite par for the course, but they are getting there.

            And yet, it’s still a rare exception to the rule that time will destroy everything we love, but don’t let that be a reason to stop doing stuff, I guess. It’s not a very good one anyway. It’s one that creates so many more problems than it solves. And besides, the thing disappears, but its fingerprints on the world will remain.

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            “The room is dark. The man is crying. You are crying too.”

            That one was one of the messages I got that would proceed the game crashing. Not permanently. Let me remind you that back then crashing was just part of being on the internet. Well, a part of certain sites on the internet. The independently developed ones.

I didn’t think anything of it. But then I took the line back to The Forum, and minds were quickly lost.

            Some lines were harder to get than others. That went without saying, maybe. But if you believed everything in The Funhouse Hallway was deliberately put there or designed, then there should have been some sort of pattern, right? At that point in the internet’s life, the word “algorithm” wasn’t something you assumed to be applicable. Some people were capable of making a more basic one than anything you see dictating your world today, but most were still honing their skills.

            We didn’t know if the maker of The Funhouse Hallway had these abilities in any form. Never mind beyond anything we could comprehend or had seen elsewhere. We also didn’t know if the game was still being updated. Or if the creator had died. The site was just so basic by design that really, anything seemed possible.

            Aishi was the only one who had ever gotten that line. And there was a temptation to think she was lying, but she wasn’t on The Forum enough to ever be considered an effective troll. So no one knew what to make of it until I revealed that I had seen it too.

            I was confirmation that what she claimed was true. And there was something… fiery about that confirmation. In that it relit a fire in all of us. It was a lead, one of the few we had ever gotten.

            With that, it was assumed that Aishi and I had something in common or some sort of link that led to that message. Either we had gone the same way or were in the same part of the world, or accessing the site at the same time. Really it could have been anything, but it was something. It was just hard to figure out what that something was. I mean, the words were the only obvious connection we had. And there was a hesitation to say too much more.

            You don’t want to be the one to reveal too much until that person has given you reason to trust them. And they are thinking the same thing. This is all assuming, of course, you both can take that reason at face value. But we couldn’t disengage. We had to play this game of chicken. There was no veering of coarse to save ourselves

            And that’s hard to explain to anyone who didn’t play the game. We could only act like this, say anything at all to each, because we were all so sure that there was meaning to this game. But we had to work together to find it. It was part of the experience. Or it was the assumption that came from being knee deep in this mess. You were so sure there was something. There had to be. I mean, what would that say about you if there wasn’t?

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            I don’t think it’s a great source, but according to babycenter.com, “Aishi” means “Gift of God.” A bunch of other websites share that definition or variations of it from time to time. But the heart of it is always the same. A present from the divine. Not necessarily divine itself, but a sign that the forces that be haven’t forgotten about you just yet.

            Indian, in origin, it says. Another website will it to Hinduism, specifically. I don’t know which to believe.

            I never knew how far to trust Aishi when she told me about herself. I remember her being more hesitant to open up than I was. She would reflect the level of confession I was willing to offer, often accidentally. And that puts a lot of pressure on me. The storm created by The Forum’s pressure that initially forced Aishi and I together slowly wore down my defenses.

            Walls were being dissolved. Slowly crumbling.

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            Chat logs from obscure websites seldom survive the frequent purging of the digital world. But in my secret quest to figure out the game and from the intellectual binges involved in that, I kept a diary, preserving fragments of what we said on a separate, semi-private thread.

            That bit has survived.



            April 4th….

            (Quote) The room is dark… (End quote) Were we playing at night? Aishi swears she wasn’t, and neither was I. So maybe it was meant to be wrong. Aishi reminds me that computers track time. They work as clocks. So maybe The Funhouse Hallway syncs up with a machine like that. Or the time it tracks is the central hub, the server The Funhouse Hallway lives on.

            When Aishi pointed that out, she called me, “Hun.” I was confused. I asked her why. She said she calls everyone Hun. I thought it was because she knew I was a woman. It turns out she didn’t, but now she does. I told her. She pointed out that. She seems too smug about it.

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            It was a different time then, and I need to clarify that because if not, you—as the audience—might devolve into two factions: the half that’s going to chastise me for not being more careful and the half that’s not going to understand what the issue is in the first place. And I’m pretty sure there’s going to be a strong correlation with age.

            But back then the internet wasn’t a fun summer camp-esque stage for your performances. It wasn’t a place to play out harmless fantasies featuring all the lives you could have had or all the virtues you could have possessed if you spent a bit of time working on yourself. Parts of it were like that, and parts of it have gotten even more innocent across time, but those are the words a rose-colored pen would spit out. That doesn’t mean it’s accurate.

            But back then, the internet was still somewhat a niche thing. Carving out a space for yourself on an obscure website and existing in that space was pretty hard to do, and that raised some concerns about your motivation. In theory, if you could get a good in the physical world, you would. Like social interaction. Or friends. Potential victims… not impossible, but digital trails were seemingly harder to utilize.

            Sure, we stumbled onto The Funhouse Hallway. We didn’t seek it out. We didn’t have to put in work, and now we desperately needed the answers we could only pull out of the internet and each other. That is a pretty strong motivation, and somewhat innocent. But there was no way to know if a conversation partner shared those intentions. As a result, the general consensus or the conventional wisdom, I should say, was to keep certain cards close to your chest. Small reveals were just inches of the rope that could eventually trap you. Most of us were okay with someone else getting caught. Not necessarily ourselves.

            It didn’t help that Aishi was seldom online. So seldom that no one on The Forum could vouch for her character. She tried to fill in those gaps but not well.

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            April 4th continued…

            Aishi tells me she is a woman too. She thought that might help, but it really didn’t.

            We tried to talk about the game again. Maybe it did know what time we accessed the website, but it was harder to know if we were playing at the same time. Neither of us wants to give anything about location away. And we need location for time zones.

            Aishi thinks to track out the days. She says she got it two weeks and two days ago. I got it yesterday. That’s fifteen days apart. And I ask her if she thinks number fifteen was significant. If that’s what the message is. Or the message comes every fifteen days to a player.

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            You can find meaning wherever you look for it. Assuming you look hard enough. It’s a far more subjective quest than we want to admit. And as an extension of that, we like the idea of messages because it points to that aforementioned meaning. All of this lets us disconnect from trauma or tragedy whenever we want because—hey—it’s not about us, so much as it is about this other thing.

            In this case, the other thing was the creator of The Funhouse Hallway. This was a person or people who could communicate in this really indirect way through the game. And maybe that was why they made the game. I mean, why else would you do it? So there could have been a message. It was just hard to know for sure. We couldn’t truly know, really. But we thought if we looked hard enough. We’d find something.

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            The diary entry devolves into a series of bullet points so I will just have to sum it up for you.

            Aishi told me that the number 15 is associated with harmony. But I tried to check that the other day, and it’s not completely accurate. It’s not inaccurate either. It looks like she cut corners here and there to prove a point, but that also made for a better story, I guess. One that was easier to understand and one that fit into our mystery.

            Or maybe she actually did have meaning behind it. Aishi believed in numerology, something whose rules I truly struggle to understand, if I’m being completely honest. But it wasn’t a classic believe, I would call it. She believed in a lot of things not for what they said or presented as facts but what was underneath those beliefs. Every belief system that comes to be, comes to be for a reason or as a manifestation of the reason that came before it. There’s an aspect of humanity in the things we create or the lies we tell.

            And while that was a nice thought, it also didn’t make a great deal of sense.

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            I never did get a sense of what time zone she was in. I would ask her a lot, but she never answered me, and it only seemed more relevant the more we talked. She always seemed to be available. Which was always. But Aishi never revealed that much about herself, even time strengthened our rapport. And yeah, I get it. Even in the current internet, I would still hesitate to do that.

            But she did show that she was willing to talk to me. That said a lot but also very little.

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            Aishi Online is a production of Miscellany Media Studios. It is written, produced, and performed by MJ Bailey with music from the Sounds like an Earful music supply. If you like the show, please leave a review or donate to the show’s Ko-Fi. Links for all of this in the description.