You have been warned.

It all started on a rather unremarkable Tuesday morning. I was the leader for my housing group in the 4-person Barnard lottery. Since we were finally seniors, we decided to vie, optimistically, for the lowest resident-to-bathroom ratio possible. I added my group members one-by-one in the Starrez portal. Next to each of their names, there were two buttons. The top button read “MAKE LEADER” and the bottom read “DO NOT CLICK THIS BUTTON!” I scoffed. Why on Earth would they create a button that no one is supposed to press without even explaining what it does? Who’s idea of a joke was this? I assumed (which I now realize was the biggest mistake I could have possibly made) that whatever function laid behind this ridiculous button was reversible. With that in mind, I clicked without another moment’s hesitation. 

Immediately, I knew I had made a grave error in judgement. My surroundings seemed to momentarily warp and flicker. I rubbed my eyes—I had fallen back into one of my worst habits and worn my monthly contacts to sleep the previous night, which was clearly affecting my vision. Then, my computer screen went completely blank, then a bright white screen with an unfamiliar logo appeared. As my heart rate increased, my vision began to tunnel around the computer screen and I was suddenly faced with a video recording of an older woman wearing a knowing expression and a white lab coat. 

“Greetings, participant. My name is Dr. Ramona Vesuvius, and I am the lead researcher here at the Center for Novel Neurological Advancement Research, or CNNAR. You have just completed the last stage of our ‘Curiosity Killed the Cat’ Experiment, and this message will serve as your debrief session. I will start with what will likely be the most shocking information, so I recommend that you prepare yourself accordingly. Everything you think you remember from the past 20 years has been implanted into your brain through a highly advanced simulation technique.” I was racking my brain for which of my CS major friends would have come up with this absurd prank when Dr. Vesuvius interrupted me in a monotone rasp. “I’m afraid this is not a hoax. ‘Barnard College’ does not exist, and neither do any of the people you know. This has all been designed by highly skilled technicians in our institute. If you don’t believe me, look around. By now, you should find that the simulation is beginning to degrade as you draw closer to returning to reality.” 

Shakily, I forced my head to turn slightly to the left. Sure enough, the set of drawers in the corner of the room were beginning to warp and quiver, as though they were an image on a malfunctioning TV screen. Pieces of the blue walls chipped away to reveal a white oblivion at the corners of my vision. Now, I could hardly control my breathing. I jerked back and began jabbing at random keys on my computer, hoping to wake it up and Google my bizarre neurological symptoms. I thought I must have been having a new kind of panic attack that induced hallucinations. Despite my efforts, the woman on the screen continued to lecture me. “There’s just one other thing: if you noticed, our experiment is called ‘Curiosity Killed the Cat,’ which is no accident. As our lab is limited by outmoded ethical standards, we have not been approved for human trials. As a result, we had to look to other species with close companionship to human beings. Though this simulation has led you to believe that you are a human, I must tell you that is not the case.”

I blinked, uncomprehendingly. Then, suddenly, I found myself alone in a bare, dark room. Off to one side, I noticed a box filled with a pale gravel. I looked down, only to find that my short, polished fingernails had been replaced with dull claws, embedded in furry paws. I felt bile rise in my throat and began to gag, but when I regained my composure, I did not find vomit on the floor, but a small, oblong mass of fuzz. 

A hairball.

The Button In Question Via Barnard Starrez