For some travel is expensive, for others, lucrative.
The Other Seven
For the Eighth Wonder Award
‘I thought it’d be more impressive,’ I say, fidgeting with my glasses. ‘The title ruins the surprise.’
Steve snorts. ‘What else would you call a leaning tower?’
He pulls his phone from his pocket. ‘Next stop: England.’
With a single tap on his smartphone, a strange buzzing sound fills the air. The whole of Pisa—the tower, everything—turns to white-noise. The crackling whiteness slowly fades to black, and then a new world lurches into view.
Grass. Stone. Sky.
‘Stonehenge,’ Steve says.
I crane my neck up towards the monolith balanced above me. ‘Wow. Not bad Steve. I’d love to go here.’
‘We are here.’
‘No, I mean actually go here,’ I laugh. ‘Do my glasses look as ridiculous as yours?’
Steve adjusts his angular black glasses. He looks like something out of a very bad eighties sci-fi.
‘They’re just a prototype, give me a break,’ he says as he taps his phone again.
We are standing at the base of an ornate, ancient skyscraper.
‘What’s this one?’ I ask.
‘The Porcelain Tower of Nanjing,’ Steve answers. ‘Destroyed in 1856. Rebuilt in 2010. But we’re in about…1840… I think. Wanted you to see it in all it’s glory.’
‘We’ve gone to China, and back in time?’
Steve raises his eyebrows. ‘Impressive, huh?’
He fiddles with his phone.
I blink, and we’re standing in the middle of the Colosseum. There is a mighty roar from the crowd, more like thunder than applause. I frown at Steve. He grins back.
‘Tell me we’re not in ancient Rome, Steve; I’m not Russell Crowe.’
Steve’s smile drops, and his eyes flit to something behind me. I turn, and see a very large—very angry—lion stalking towards me.
The lion pounces into the air. I shield my face with my arms and close my eyes, braced for death…
‘Joe?’ Steve says, tapping me on the shoulder.
I open one eye.
‘Great Wall of China, mate,’ he says, looking out over the endless green.
I let out a sigh of relief and drop my arms by my sides. I notice a strange flicker in the air in front of me. I squint.
The air cracks, as if rent apart by lightning, and the lion from the Colosseum leaps out of nothingness onto the bricks before me, gnashing its razor teeth.
He turns to me and swears, fumbling with his phone, mumbling, ‘That shouldn’t be here… not in the build…’
The lion pads towards me. My heart is in my throat, or my skull, or somewhere else it shouldn’t be.
‘Joe, wait!’ Steve yells, dashing after me. ‘It’s not—just wait!’
But I’m running, my feet whirring beneath me, the lion panting at my heels.
Suddenly, I’m stopped dead in my tracks. White-noise. Darkness.
‘What the hell was that?’ I toss the glasses onto my desk and rub my eyes.
‘Careful with the equipment, mate. The prototype—’
‘You nearly killed me, Steve, I couldn’t give a shit about your prototype!’ I stagger over to the couch and collapse onto my back.
Steve laughs. ‘We were in your office the whole time. It’s virtual reality; that lion wasn’t actually there.’
I feel my face flush, picturing myself running from an imaginary lion. ‘I don’t get it, Steve. Besides the bloody lion chase—’
‘—a glitch that I—’
‘—why the hell would anyone want to go to the seven wonders, but not actually go there? You need to experience it.’
Steve perches on the arm of the couch. ‘Joe, answer me this: do you feel like you didn’t just experience that?’
‘Exactly. But you didn’t have to leave the office. Didn’t spend thousands of dollars. And there was zero environmental impact. This,’ he holds out his phone, ‘is the eighth wonder of the world, mate. And now you’ve been to the other seven. Well, you would have if you—’
‘But I haven’t been anywhere. The whole point of travel is the going, the being.’
‘You’re missing the point, Joe. We’re going to be very, very rich. And you’re being an asshole.’
I sigh. ‘I hate the twenty-first century.’