They had always gone through life believing it was so much easier pretending not to care. They had always thought that if you could hide your true feelings from other people, you wouldn’t get hurt as easily. Besides, other people liked being around someone who seemed to always be in a good mood no matter what was going on around them. If people always wanted to be around them, there was no chance they would ever have to feel lonely. They could even feel loved.

Of course, it was harder to hide their emotions when other people started exposing their own for fun. A new app downloaded directly to the brain allowed people to physically show off their emotions right over their heads. It had become a trend of sorts. Display your true feelings for all the world to see with no control over what other people would see or how they would react.

It really wasn’t so bad at first. They could laugh along with their friends about what emotions people displayed. But as the trend kept getting bigger and bigger, people started to notice when they weren’t participating. When the questions started it got even harder to ignore their friends.

“Hey, why don’t you go next?”

“What do you mean you don’t have the app?”

“Have you gotten the new upgrade yet?”

“When are you going to do it? Come on, everybody else has already done it!”

“What, are you afraid or something?”

They couldn’t just outright say it, but yes, they were afraid. They had spent the last three years of their life learning how to hide their emotions without people noticing and all of a sudden everybody wanted to know exactly what they were feeling. The others didn’t even really care, they just thought it was fun, or that it was all just a joke.

Of course, they knew the horror stories. Someone finding out just how much you loved them and then cutting off all contact with you. Why would you show me that you creep? Parents becoming furious when they saw that their children were really afraid of them. I sacrificed everything good in my life for you, how could you be afraid of me?

But some good had come out of this too, right? It had to otherwise people wouldn’t still be doing this. They thought back to all the videos they’d seen online of people showing their emotions and ending up happy. Two best friends who had been harboring secret feelings for each other for years finally getting together. Wait why didn’t you tell me, we wasted so much time being afraid! Someone’s manager at work realizing that their employees are struggling and actually wanting to help them. If I had known about this sooner, we could have worked something out weeks ago.

That settled it then. They were going to try. If only so their friends would stop pestering them to just download the app already.

Amazing, how something can be downloaded directly to the brain. “No purchase necessary!” all the advertisements read. No purchase? What was the catch then? Out of curiosity they opened the app store on their computer. They already had the required brain connector thanks to a science class they took last year. Opening up the information for the app, they quickly read over everything. It seemed normal enough. The standard propaganda that makes the app seem like the best thing in the world, the taglines of “Wow your friends!” and “Stop letting fear rule your life!” in big, bold letters at the top of the page.

Before they could think about it any longer, they pressed Download. Almost immediately lights started flashing in front their eyes. Wait, was it really in front of their eyes, or inside their eyes, inside their head?

Download 30% Complete

It’s not too late to change your mind, they reminded themself. You can always just hit Cancel or turn off the WIFI completely.

Download 50% Complete

Well, if you really want to cancel now would be the time to do it. If the download speed increases at all it’ll be too late, and was there anything on the information screen about deleting it later?

Download 80% Complete

Wait, now that I think about it, there wasn’t anything that even mentioned the possibility of deleting it later. Wait no I changed my –

Download Complete

They could see it when they looked in the mirror. The words already flashing above their head without pause. Sad. Angry. Scared. Anxious. Depressed. It lingered on that last one longer than they were comfortable with. Surely that’s not true, they reassured themselves, I would know if I was depressed.

They stared at their reflection, eyes wide. No sense of time passing. No acknowledgement of their friends knocking on the locked bedroom door, except a faint how had they known about the download? at the back of their head. Just watching those five words repeated over and over and over above their head. Sad. Angry. Scared. Anxious. Depressed. They raised their hand to try and touch the words, but it passed right through. Almost as if the words were merely a projection or hologram. Or maybe even just inside their own head. Finally, their friends’ words broke through the barrier in their mind.

“Come on, what’s taking so long?”

“Surely it’s finished downloading by now.”

“Just come out and show us, it can’t be that bad.”

No. No, they can’t see me like this. Frantically shaking their head, they looked away from the mirror and made their way as silently as possible to the door to double, no triple check that it was locked. Good, there’s no way anybody is getting in here. It wasn’t until they went to move the dresser in front of the door, just in case, that they noticed their shaking hands.

They spent so long learning how to be the kind of person that others liked and wanted to be around. But this? This would ruin that. Once people learn the truth about what they feel no one will want to be around them anymore. All those friendships they formed over the years would disappear almost immediately. Would they be posted online like everybody else? Just another sob story that shows what could happen to others if they download the app? Just another cautionary tale to be ignored? No. No, they couldn’t let that happen.

They could still hear their friends outside the door. Knocking, occasionally trying to lure them outside with tempting words of encouragement. Do those people really care? Or are they just waiting with their phones out ready to record the moment of weakness of someone who considered them friends. Were those relationships lies this whole time? Did those people ever even care about them? I don’t need anybody, they told themself. I can deal with this on my own. Forever. No one else needs to be involved. They’re just going to lie to me. They never really cared about me.

Seemingly hours later, they sat on the floor of their room leaning against the dresser and wardrobe shoved in front of the door. With head in hands and breathing erratic, the noise of their friends on the other side of the door eventually faded away into nothingness. The only noise in the room being the sound of their own breath and heartbeat. They would be just fine, as long as they were alone.