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Short Story

The Experience


Uneventful 13-hour drive to drop zone for Digital Detox Experience. Participants Z (male, 31) and W (male, 26) blindfolded en route. Z and W each provided with standard issue summer-season kit, including:

(Participants refused rain gear; stated that the weather forecast for next 7 days is clear. See signed waiver.)

Allowed misc. personal items, including: toiletries, three full sets of clothing, books, gluten-free bread, vitamins, harmonica, sleeping mask, and playing cards. Confiscated items include: phones, tablet, GPS watch, LED headlamps, action cam, folding solar charger, and flask.


0000 HOURS

Removed blindfolds from participants Z and W at midnight, approx. .8 miles off road in Canyon #3 location where Mantz usually makes the drop. Participants observed setting up their tents as I departed. I returned to vehicle and concealed jeep. Removed my pack and hiked to ridge above participants. Z’s confiscated flask filled with whisky, possibly Laphroaig.


Z and W remained mostly at last night’s camp. Participants set up hammocks and expressed jubilation at being on digital retreat, per usual. They smoked contraband (participants believe they are still in California). Participants ate through more than one day’s rations. Argued about not bringing bug spray. Defaulted to work chatter (buyout likelihood, internal reviews, possibility of another Hawaii conference, code-related items, back to buyout likelihood). Z explored immediate vicinity. I moved position to avoid discovery. W gathered firewood, wrote in a notebook.


W read aloud to Z from a book on stoicism. Participants consumed two days’ dinner rations. Participants voiced plan to cut Experience short by one day and have me drive them to a game. Z and W believe I drove them south into San Diego County.



W gathered additional firewood. Z expressed desire to further explore canyon. I trailed Z. Z in possession of contraband phone. Screen content not visible, but several hundred thumb swipes observed. Knowledge of location possibly accessed. Initial moments of onanism briefly witnessed.


I returned to observation post. W practiced his harmonica, attempting “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain” and (possibly) “Can You Tell Me How to Get to Sesame Street?”


Z returned and napped in hammock. W again read aloud to Z from book on stoicism. Z moved hammock to more distant location. W again played harmonica, asked Z if he possessed lip balm. (No.) W collected pine cones, stones, and leaves and arranged them in mandala form. (Positive sign of play-in-situ with found objects.)


I discovered human remains, lower torso only. Likely Mantz. I buried remains under rocks to facilitate later recovery/investigation. Said prayer and poured out remains of Laphroaig over temporary grave. (No disrespect meant to Mantz’s former status as a recovering alcoholic.) State of body (puncture marks), indicates mountain lion attack, though that does not mean Mantz couldn’t have suffered a heart attack first (you know Mantz.) I returned to jeep for additional supplies and am now armed. Also in possession of radio-transmitter scanner once owned by Mantz and used to track location of previous iteration of Nav Beacon. No sign of Mantz’s two participants from earlier this month; both remain missing. No signal detected from any radio sources, i.e. possible radio collar on mountain lion.



Awake, thinking about Mantz. Also thinking about Linda, his now-widowed wife. Sweet Linda. To get my mind off the Mantzes, I infiltrated participants camp with aid of night scope. Searched for Z’s contraband phone. Discovered hollow carved in Z’s loaf of gluten-free bread; phone located within hollow. Removed phone some distance. Unintentionally smashed and bent phone, then returned and scattered phone pieces and gluten-free bread around camp, along with various gear. Also ripped Z’s hammock. Tracks sufficiently obscured.


Z woke first. Discovered smashed phone. Visibly angry. Kicked W’s pinecone arrangement. Observed Z burying his phone with W’s harmonica and W’s book on stoicism. Later, Z and W discussed “bear attack” that upturned their camp. Participants contemplated using Nav Beacon. W collected more firewood. Later, Z fell through ripped hammock. Claims bruised coccyx. W found this amusing. Shoving observed. Participants appear to have regressed to Phase 1 of Digital Detox. Highly probable participants did not view Dr. Jeff’s three-part on-boarding video, as instructed.

Radio-transmitter scanner detects signal, 3–5 miles distant, S-SW.


Light rain. W moved his firewood stockpile into his tent. Harmonica sounds heard (backup harmonica?), followed by loud vocalizations re: presence of scorpion in firewood. W seen throwing out firewood, shaking tent. Z refused to unzip his tent and grant W access. Clear skies by nightfall. Unintelligible conversation. A few falling stars. I fell into contemplation. Would Mantz and Linda’s recent reconciliation have stuck if Mantz hadn’t been done in by a mountain lion? I don’t think Mantz realizes how lucky he is was to have Linda.)


Radio scanner shows possible collared mountain lion within half a mile, though signal may be affected by canyon. May be closer.



Z and W not at camp. Scouted and located them a mile further down-canyon under outcrop/cave. Participants scrutinized animal tracks along stream bank. Z and W climbed up part of ridge, apparently to gain a signal for Nav Beacon. Participants held Beacon aloft, in turns, for better part of morning. Radio scanner out of battery; opted to remain near participants.


Participants know about the Beacon. Z removed screws, plastic plate, and button with his Swiss Army knife. Z overheard, while dismantling Nav Beacon: “It’s just a hockey puck!” W found Z’s statement, or the situation, humorous. I observed Z and W scuffling, but extent of scuffling partially obscured by topography. W set up his tent a quarter mile downstream. Repositioned my post between the two. Not ideal vis-à-vis mountain lion situation.


Participants remained at respective camps. W built a fish weir or possibly just a simple dam. (This exhibits a second instance of play-in-situ—a good sign and possible entry into Phase 2 of Digital Detox. Later, W appeared to possess contraband gaming device, marking a reversion to Phase 1). In other camp, Z drew on outcrop wall and ceiling with charred sticks. Tic-tac-toe observed, as well as a drawing of a giant phallus with a hairy scrotum that developed into a depiction of an angry porcupine. (Possibly a sign of entering play-in-situ phase.)



Infiltrated W’s camp at night. Gaming device revealed to be a small book about the history of video game controllers, shaped like a video game controller. Also: tracks in stream bank confirmed as mountain lion. See attached photograph. Photographs also attached of W’s journal entries, transcribed below.

Wednesday (Day 3) Ridiculous. (Z)’s such an energy-suck. Digital Sabbath should be solo. Will bring that up with (me) when that dick picks us up. Seventeen mosquito bites. Had a dream that one of the nodes compiled to a corrupt state and I couldn’t roll it back because git had not yet been invented. Feel a bit ridiculous having spent $10k on this “experience” though. Should have just gone camping, or maybe taken (M) somewhere. (M) thought I was languishing and should go, that it would be good for me, but maybe I was just bored, right? Maybe it’s not about screen time at all. Also, is this whole thing just an exercise in more privilige (sic)? And if I’m realizing that, does that make it ok? Wish I had an app to identify all the trees and plants and birds here. And that the app would tell me which you could eat. Would that make a good subscription or in-app purchasing model? And would that need some kind of asynchronous payment method if there’s no cell signal, like here? Note: research what’s available when I’m back. I wonder if wanting to know the names for things is maybe just another form of needless knowing. I am mildly high right now, but not at the euphoria level (S) and (G) said they experienced when they did the detox. Need to ask what strain they were using. Maybe they were just full of bullshit. They probably got a referral fee.

Thursday (Day 4) Our gear got all soaked in a freak thunderstorm that flooded everything, plus I was almost killed by a scorpion. Also, (Z)’s not taking digital detox well. He probably only wants me here to distract him. The hell with that. He’s reading the labels on his clothes. He’s taken apart the camp stove and put it back together, a total tweaker, just like everyone says he is. (Z) found some tracks by our new camp which he thinks is wolf, but there’s no wolves this far south. (Z) went to use the Nav Beacon. I felt okay with leaving. I’ve gotten about all I can out of this, plus I can’t crap in the woods. It turns out the beacon thing is nothing but a hockey puck. (Z) is freaking out. What if they dump us here, he said. Which I thought was pretty funny, since that’s pretty much what they did. Maybe this is a Silicon Valley graveyard, he says. Also, (Z) has been saying stuff about (M), about (M) coming on to him all the time, messages she’s sent, about things he doesn’t want to say because he considers me like a friend and he can sense that he’s feeling anymosity (sic) toward me and not to piss him off or he’ll tell me. I think he’s messing with me. (M) wouldn’t, would she? I can’t remember what (M) said she’d be doing this week while I’m here.


Participants hiked over the ridge, abandoning tent and supplies (complaints about weight overheard). They took the easiest route toward monument land. (Z likely looked up location when in previous possession of contraband phone, or is very lucky.) I shadowed participants until they reached canyon trail, then hiked back to the jeep and drove the four hours to the trailhead at north watershed.

Waited at trailhead. Thought about Mantz again. Thought about Mantz’s missing participants. Thought about Linda Mantz, and how she’ll need emotional support when she finds out, someone to help her through the funeral, etc. in whatever capacity she needs, etc.


W emerged alone at trailhead, surprised to see me waiting. I asked about Z. He shrugged and remained uncommunicative all evening. We waited for Z.



W tried to get into Z’s phone stored in the jeep, without luck. Instead, W showed me nude selfies of M on his own phone, which I returned to him. He asked me whether I thought she was a 10 (not my type), and what number I thought he was in relation to M. W went on about an algorithm he’d sketched out in his head that took into account social outings, sexual favors, base salary, and future stock dividends in determining whether M might leave him (presumably for Z). He said it was 50/50, which is all the math I think he needs. I suggested W practice some 4/7/8 breathing techniques to calm down, or at least drink the liter of electrolyte formula and apply aloe to his sunburns.


At sundown, Z emerged at trailhead, limping. Broken ribs, participant states. (Doubtful, though a black eye and split lip visible. Not mountain-lion related.) Too late to head out. Camped at trailhead. Applied first aid to Z. Z stayed in vehicle with doors locked and taunted W with photos of M on his phone. W wrote on window in dust.



Drove Z and W back to residences in San Jose, Z occupying rear seat. Overheard chatter during drive about W’s girlfriend M having committed acts with Z during a company retreat on Maui that Z boasted are illegal in some states (the acts). Similar taunts are possible precipitant for unobserved altercation and Z’s injuries. Pistol revealed to participants to stop them from slapping each other and kicking seats. Pistol fired out the window to demonstrate seriousness of my conviction that I will not put up with said shit.

Order maintained in vehicle for remainder of drive.

Without revealing state of Mantz, I shared stories with them about Mantz, how he is the best in the company, how participants send him photos of themselves and their new flip-phones, their stacks of books, their happy families, and of the hobbies they have cultivated in their newfound spare time. I may have chewed participants out a bit on their personal failures. May have forced them to wash the jeep at a pit stop, particularly to remove “suck my balls” graffito by W. May have purchased toothbrushes and insisted on detailed cleaning, including of tire treads. May have told them M is a 5 at best, and they are both 2s.

Further Notes

Coordinates of (partial) Mantz remains sent to Dr. Jeff and (as instructed by Dr. Jeff) also sent to Utah police. One-week reassignment likely needed pending forthcoming assistance request by local authorities, both re: Mantz’s remains and in debriefing Mantz’s participants, who, Dr. Jeff has noted in the last hour, were picked up last week in north watershed and only briefly hospitalized.

Company lawyer (whoever replaced Bern) should be given a heads-up on threatened legal action by Z and W. I inflated referral fee to 50% to offset possibility of legal entanglement; participation in referral program by Z and W will signify recommendation of Experience and undermine complaint.

Low confidence participants Z and W will register for follow-on Advanced Digital Detox Experience. Medium-high confidence Z and W may bring in new (personally disliked) participants via referral program (overheard).


End report.

“The Experience” first appeared in Great Ape.