Kuro5hin.org: technology and culture, from the trenches
create account | help/FAQ | contact | links | search | IRC | site news
[ Everything | Diaries | Technology | Science | Culture | Politics | Media | News | Internet | Op-Ed | Fiction | Meta | MLP ]
We need your support: buy an ad | premium membership

[P]
Something He Didn't Expect

By Egil Skallagrimson in Fiction
Wed Apr 12, 2006 at 12:00:00 PM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)
Culture

A short story about the possibilities of the Internet.


ADVERTISEMENT
Sponsor: rusty
This space intentionally left blank
...because it's waiting for your ad. So why are you still reading this? Come on, get going. Read the story, and then get an ad. Alright stop it. I'm not going to say anything else. Now you're just being silly. STOP LOOKING AT ME! I'm done!
comments (24)
active | buy ad
ADVERTISEMENT
Nick's job was to scour the Internet for odd things and weird people. Well, their conversations, anyway.

He was employed by the humor website "Horrible Displays of Human Filth", a site designed to poke fun at the odd people on the World Wide Web. The place was packed with them. He found them in odd chat-rooms and Instant Messaging forums, the meat and potatoes of his work. As a joke, he often called the Internet `teh Intarwebs', which was only funny to other people on the Internet. They had a lot of word-jokes like this. Though not requiring the most highly specialized skills, his job was something he took quite seriously.

'Scat Play for She-Males Forum', 'Vegans Against Democracy Forum', 'Otherkin: Dragons Only Forum', 'Goths for Jesus Forum'. He once even found a site where the forum members (presumably teenage boys) discussed the possibility that races other than White People are actually robots. He stayed away from pedophile forums and the forums where 40-year-old men tried to imagine what it was like to be a girl approaching puberty. No reason to have himself flagged by the FBI or CSIS or MI5 while at work.

Nick was not sure whether or not the people on these forums actually believed any of the things they wrote. It was hard to tell, since so much of it was purposely outrageous. Maybe it was like T.V., pure escapism, not to be taken seriously. Except, it was obvious that many people did take it seriously. They had to, because as soon as someone countered the fact that there was, in fact, no such thing as trans-sexual aliens devoted to Kabballah, the vitriol and acidic responses were wild. There would be post after post of "no yuo!!!" This fact, hidden among all the jabs and funny stories, was the most frightening thing of all. It made Nick glad he would never have children in a world like this.

The set-up for "Horrible Displays of Human Filth" was simple enough: Nick would browse a number of regularly used sites full of the apparently insane and then take screenshots of their idiotic conversations. He spent entire days reading through thread after thread devoted to the habits of people with far too much time on their hands. The screenshots would be later used in a vertical display of all the most hilarious finds of the week, with Nick's sarcastic, but `insightful' comments introducing each shot.

"This person loves seafood" was followed by a screenshot with a comment in a forum for people who love and cherish their venereal disease. Predictably, the person had Pubic Lice, or 'Crabs'. Another comment about the way others viewed a certain older man's secret life as a cat was prefaced by "meow_ball_7643 just needs a scratch behind the ears." It was simple, but it was a very popular feature on the website.

After losing his wife to cancer the year before, Nick basically lived at work. What had once been a small internet start-up, hoping to make big revenue off of plentiful advertising dollars, despite the fact that the Tech Bubble had burst at least 7 years previous, had gone quite well. This was mostly due to the fact that Nick never left the place. He worked there as if he owned the place instead of being only one of 8 employees. It had been 4 employees when it started. He couldn't even program very well or use really HTML when he first began 2 years ago. But, in the past year, with far too much time on his hands, and a gaping hole of sadness, what little he had needed in Engineering school had come back to him. He had thrown himself into his work, more or less becoming the key player in their tiny operation. He did not stay home sick, even when he was sick, and he did not miss a day, even on the weekend.

Sometimes he would stay as his little cubicle, sitting in his ergonomically designed chair, drinking Coke for 2 days at a time without leaving. He'd lie about going home for a few hours when his co-workers would return to work in the morning, after leaving him in the same spot the night before. They believed him most of the time, but suspected him of dishonesty when he began to smell from going multiple days without showering. The bags under his eyes would become quite dense, as well, taking on the look of Halloween makeup. When people began commenting about his blood-shot eyes and the light scent of rank dead skin and sweat buildup coming from his cubicle, he would force himself to leave and return to the crypt that had become his home.

-----

Nick did not like his home anymore. He had liked it at one time, but since his wife's death, he did not feel like he really lived there anymore. It was only a place to store his things.

The air in there was dank, for one thing. The medium-sized apartment on the top floor of an old walkup in a middle-aged part of Toronto (low-rises of grayish-red brick with the distinct aura of disrepair) was always dark. He never opened the curtains. Since he was not there very often, he made the excuse that he didn't need to clean the place, either, since it never really got dirty. Not from any human doing, that is. At this point, there was a thick layer of dust covering everything.

The dust swirled in tiny gray hurricanes when he walked into the living room after 3 days of being absent. The last time he was there it had only been for a quick shower before leaving again. The path from the front door to the bathroom door to his bedroom was marked out in disturbed layers of dust.

He shuffled into his apartment and took off the light spring jacket he had been wearing against the weather, which was quickly changing from winter to the dull, wet cold of Spring. `April is the cruelest month...' he intoned inside his head, shedding the jacket on a small chair his wife had once bought to place by the front door, though not for that purpose. She had regularly scolded him for doing it when she had been there.

He headed for the bathroom, showering quickly and trying to resist the urge to sleep, though it had begun to settle on him heavily as he washed his hair. Washing his hair was the final stage of the Standard Operating Procedure for Showering, as it was outlined in his mind. First, a steady lathering of soap on the body was required. Then, a short break to bask in the heat of the water before proceeding to the hair-washing. This generally took longer, he had begun noticing, as Nick's hair was now beyond his shoulders. He had not cut it in 13 months.

Stepping from the shower, Nick stopped and looked around the small bathroom for a second. It had been virtually untouched, as far a Nick could remember, since his wife's death. He touched only the tooth brush, the Q-tips (which were now depleted) and the toothpaste. All of the nick-knacks and girly compliments of color and detail were still there. But, though he did not notice when he entered the bathroom, everything had been pushed over or thrown to the floor.

Was he that sloppy? Or, had he just forgotten about the mess he made, a product of his constantly weary mind?

The small tea-light candles were in the toilet, the lid up, revealing the small pond upon which they now floated. The four towels he alternated between using were in a pile behind the toilet. His toothbrush was head-down in the sink, kept from dropping into the drain only by the stopper in the sink that was now tightly jammed into its' neck. Everything in the medicine cabinet had been dumped onto the counter, some of it lying in the sink with the toothbrush.

Nick did not remember letting the bathroom get this way, but that meant nothing. The previous week, in a futile attempt to stay home for more than a few hours, he had nearly burned the place down by forgetting to turn off the barbeque after cooking himself a steak. It had stayed on for 5 hours, until he noticed that the snow hitting it was melting in a quick series of hisses. It frightened him a bit at the time, but more than that, it offended his generally organized way of doing things.

He ignored the pile of medicines and creams in the sink and pulled the towels out from behind the toilet. He reminded himself not to let them get back there anymore, since it wasn't very hygienic, which would do little to help the Obsessive Compulsive habits he was steadily forming this year. After hanging them up, he decided to get a new towel from the hall closet and bundle the old ones into it, with the idea of removing them from the bathroom without touching them, so that he could clean them later.

Stepping into the hall, though, he was surprise to find the hall closet empty and its narrow door open. What had once been a very neatly stacked, organized, if overcrowded, closet full of linens and towels was now spotlessly absent of anything. His mind was suddenly a blank as he tried desperately to remember when he had unloaded the closet. Where had he put the towels, and why had he bothered? Nick shut the door, and then jumped back.

The towels and linens were stacked in a single pile, precariously tilting form side to side, directly beside the hall closet door. He had not seen them there because the door had been opened already. In fact, he was almost sure there had been nothing there in the first place.

Shrugging, he cut the teetering tower of cloth into a few small piles and retrieved a towel from the bottom. It must have been him that had done it, he supposed, noticing that it had been a perfectly engineered piling of linen. He, again, was putting his long-lost career as a Civil Engineer to work, he mused ironically. The load-bearing towels had been placed near the bottom.

Stepping back into the bathroom, he bundled the four dirty, infected, fouled towels, including the one he had been wearing up until that point into the larger, new, clean towel (careful not to touch the others) and then stepped back into the hallway to dispose of them.

The small piles of linen he had made were gone. The floor looked undisturbed, the dust in the same state it had been for weeks.

Nick stood silent and stunned for a few seconds. He had just separated them into 4 or 5 piles. Something like that. He remembered doing it. It was just a second ago. He had made a joke about Engineering. He had noticed which towels were placed where in the stack.

When had he done this?

The linen closet door was shut. This was something he knew he hadn't done. He opened the door slowly (though he couldn't think why he was doing it - what could possibly be in the closet to make him open it slowly?), knowing what he would see, but somehow beginning to feel a little uneasy about what was clearly becoming a severe lapse in memory. The linens and towels were neatly re-stacked inside the closet, separated by size and type on the seven shelves. They were crisply folded and looked as if they had just come from the store.

Dropping the makeshift bag of dirty towels in the hall, Nick shut the door and hurried to his room to finish dressing for work. Dust swirled in his wake.

-----

The secret that Nick did not share with the public, and not with most of his co-workers, was that he often participated in the discussions on the many sites he browsed, trying and get better, funnier answers out of people. He would throw something out there for the forum members to discuss, hoping for a knee-jerk reaction or some kind of emotion. He Trolled.

That always made for better copy.

When he was Instant Messaging or in a live Chatroom, it was even easier. You were getting live vitriol from any number of oddballs, fuming that you challenged their right to drink blood during sex or eat cat-food to see the world through their feline's eyes. Chatrooms had something more in-the-moment that Nick preferred, so he tended to bait people there more than in others. Generally these conversations produced good material.

He didn't mention that he 'helped out' the conversations to anyone because he often made the claim to his readers that what he did was take a snapshot of a world that many didn't know was out there. His audience, a mixed assortment of the kind of people he constantly trolled looking for a small sort of pseudo fame by mention of them on the site and straight-laced, dull programmers killing time while one program or another was compiling, wanted to see authentic maniacs. Not damaged goods that were being lured into easily set traps. Nick's authority was based on the illusion of authenticity in his findings. So, he kept quiet about his baiting.

It was Monday night at about 9 pm. Everyone had been gone for 2 hours at least, even with the pending release of a site redesign coming through in a few weeks. (The company did that regularly as a way of keeing things fresh.) Of course, Nick was still there. He wanted a few more choice pieces of copy for the morning, when he was scheduled to post all of his stuff for the past week. What he had already was funny, but a little bit repetitive (he had used too many trans-species sex forums of late) and he wanted something a little more original. It could be surprisingly hard for a discriminating weirdo to find like-minded people on the Net, it seemed. You had to work at that stuff. He figured a little more effort and he could probably come up with something good.

`After Dark Forums' was a site that hosted chatrooms and forums for various horror/death-related subjects. For the most part it was all Goth and Necrophilia discussions, but there were other things, too. Goth and Necro were more than a little over-done on the net, and could get more disturbing than funny at times, so he usually stayed away from that kind of thing. He was looking for something else.

'Voices of the Past' was a forum devoted to communicating with the dead. Kind of like an old parlour room séance, but on the internet. 'Perfect', he thought. The forum consisted mostly of people pretending to be ghosts, answering questions from the living. This should be nothing short of bizarre, thought Nick.

And he was right. Every discussion thread was about telling the people of the present about the coming dangers of technology (fitting that this was being done on a relatively new form of technology) and that they should all revert back to a more simple time in life. Scale back, reduce and eliminate the clutter of modern life. Who'd have thought the Amish would return with messages from the dead on a technology they wouldn't touch in real life, Nick mused. There were also a few threads telling the future in very broad strokes to gullible readers looking for friendships, but pretending to be looking for the dead. Nick noticed that the line between Lonely and Open-Minded on the Internet was fairly blurred.

Taking a few screen shots from a discussion purported to be between President Reagan and Queen Nefertiti of Ancient Egypt (aptly titled `Queen Nefertiti of Ancient Egypt', mind you), Nick felt that he probably had all he needed. Just a quick refresh of the subject index to see if anything really outrageous had popped up while he reading other things, and he figured he could move on to the Witty Comments aspect of his job, which was always infinitely tougher to do than finding things to make fun of.

And that's when he saw it.

The new thread, which had popped up a few seconds after he had logged on, read: 'Message for Nick from Bunny_5'. Nick had never used his real name on any forum. There was no way for someone to know who he was, let alone know when he would be looking at that particular forum. Few people even knew what he did for a living, and especially not anyone on the forums he went to. Or, not anyone he knew of.

'Bunny_5' was a silly nickname that his wife gave herself when emailing anyone. It was joke, a play on words making fun of that old robot from some movie in the 1980's who was called Jonny 5. She thought it sounded 'computerish' she said, and then used it for a decade, until she had died last year.

His skin crawled up to the top of his head and slowly oozed back into place as he stared at the subject line. Not moving, not clicking on anything. Was this a joke? If it was, it was very cruel. His skin again made its trek across his body while he sat and thought of why someone would be doing this to him. Why go to the effort just to humiliate him?

Finally, he clicked on the link.

The first message in the thread read:

"Nick, Bunny_5 has left a message that says it must be forwarded to you. Need an email address. Not a joke. Don't know who Bunny_5 is. Said you would see this if I started a thread here."

That was it. It was the only message in the thread. Nick sat, stunned and feeling very cold. This made no sense. This joke was ridiculous, and unexpected. This did not happen often, but every once in a while, even someone as used to the more raw humor of the Internet could be caught off-guard and unable to defend tender feelings.

After debating for a minute, he replied:

"Who are you? This joke is sick and I don't get it. WTF?"

He posted it, waited a second and then refreshed the screen. An answer was there.

"Like I said no joke, need email, pls. Sorry, I don't get it, just relaying something that seems important to Bunny_5."

He replied:

"I don't know a Bunny_5. How did you know I'd be here?"

A few seconds more and then a return reply:

"Look, just need an address then I'll leave you alone. I have finals, so no time for this crap. If you don't want the message just say so."

Of course he wanted the message. The problem was, none of this made any sense. If this person was screwing with him, fishing for a response, and they probably were, he was biting pretty hard on the bait. Already knowing what he would say,Nick answered back:

"Send message to screenshooter@humanfilth.com."

Then he turned off the computer and left the office.

-----

Rattled, confused and exhausted, Nick headed home, taking the subway as he did everyday, trying not to stare at the usual assortment of dredges riding in the car with him. The city was a punishing master. It didn't matter how bad a day you'd had, the subway could always make it worse.

Across the aisle an old woman who clearly belonged in a home for the aged repeated, loudly, the words of all of the advertisements on the walls of the car. She did it over and over, pounding the words into her memory, and the memories of others around her. Every so often she tried to make eye-contact with Nick, as if to reassure him that she knew that he knew that she could read the signs on the wall. She was proud of her accomplishment on this ride. Nick made sure to stay focused on the night sky outside.

His apartment was a few blocks West of Yonge St., in a quiet neighborhood, despite bordering on one of the busier areas of the city. The dark of the night, the last remaining cold vestiges of winter, and the damp air, made him shiver. Too little sleep and too little human contact were taking their toll, apparently. Weakling, he thought. It wasn't like he didn't talk to people, he just didn't have as much to say as others did.

His building was dark.  The landlord was almost always absent, allowing lights to die out and lie fallow for a season before changing them again.  He trudged up the short flight of stairs, his stomach turning as it always did from the familiar but unwanted smell of Hungarian cooking drifting up from the apartment of the family below his. They were nice, but they smelled like hell. Or, at least, their food did. Thinking of the growing layers of dust in his apartment, however, Nick felt that he couldn't be too self-righteous.

Inside, the apartment was dank and cold. The thermostat seemed to work, but in the close humidity of the apartment, he still felt the chill to his bones. He couldn't seem to get warmer.

Dropping his things onto the chair by the door, he headed for the bathroom. As he neared the bathroom door, he stopped. It was as if a load of bricks had been suddenly cast around his feet.

The linens were back in the hallway.

But, they had been thrown around the hallway, as if in a rage, as if someone had rifled through the closet looking for something. The door of the linen closet was still open, and the thin wooden boards that made up the shelves were thrust every which way. He could see them jutting out from the cavity. They were not fixed shelves and could be moved to accommodate larger items being stored in there. One of them had a large gash down the middle, as if someone had been furious and cracked it in half over their knee.

Confused (a feeling he was quickly becoming used to), Nick rearranged the shelves and thought about putting the linens back in, but changed his mind and went into the bathroom. Nature had been calling fairly urgently until he saw the closet door and its contents all over the hall. His need came back again suddenly and Nick went to relieve it.

Nothing was out of order here, really. His toothbrush was in the bathtub this time, however. The gash from the stopper the night previous was still there, accompanied by a second one from the bathtub stopper. Again, it was head down, about to fall into the drain. Nick picked it out and relieved himself with great urgency while simultaneously inspecting the toothbrush.

He finished up, washed his hands and replaced the toothbrush. And then, as he seemed to being to doing often these days, Nick froze in the doorway of the bathroom. The linens were gone.

He opened the closet, which stuck, strangely this time, causing him to have to pull on it very strongly a few times before opening it. The linens and towels had been returned to their proper places, again crisply folded.

Ignoring the hunger he felt, Nick went straight to his bedroom, shivering and feeling very cold now. He pulled his stash out of the place he had hidden it in behind his dresser. There was an air vent there that he had removed the grating from. It was where he kept his rolling papers, filters and a small stash of marajuana. He hardly ever smoked anymore, but every once in a while he would get a feeling for it, and have a joint. When his wife had been alive he couldn't smoke much at all, since she hated the habit so much. In the months after her death, he had taken it up again. But, he did not smoke very much. It was too irresponsible, he thought.

He rolled a small joint, just enough to get him to sleep as fast as possible. He smoked quickly, making himself cough, an obvious sign that he had not done it in a long time. The dried, flaky contents of his little plastic bag were the other indication. Then, relaxed, he settled back onto his pillow, butting out the cigarette and nestling into the covers.

-----

He slept but he didn't dream. His drug-addled brain was too drained to review the facts of the day. Or, at least, when he finally woke up 15 hours later to the phone ringing, he could not remember a thing. It was as if he had just laid down a second before. Reaching over, he picked up the phone.

"Yeah?" he mumbled, groggy and feeling a slight headache beginning to build.

"Nick, you alive?"

"I think." He wiped some drool from his lower lip and worked his right arm, trying to bring blood back into it. He had slept on it, and it was hurting very acutely now that he had moved.

"You didn't come in today, so we got a little worried."

Staring at the clock, he realized what time it was.

"Yeah, sorry. I think I just worked a little too hard, that's all. Tell Jim I'll be in later."

"Okay. He still needs your screen shots for the Forum stuff."

"Oh, crap. Right. I'll be right in."

"It took us forever to find your number. We had use 411."

"Yeah, I guess you never had to call me before."

"I know. You coming in, then?"

"Yeah, yeah, I'll be there."

"Alright, Nick. See you in a bit."

When he turned over to return the receiver to the cradle he noticed that his PC was on. He hadn't turned it on in months. Not that he could remember, anyway. The PC sat on a desk next to the bed. Had he done that last night, before he went to sleep? Nick shook his head, as if rattling the jumbled contents inside could return lost memories to consciousness. He couldn't remember the last time he had even used the PC.

While still staring dully at the screen an Instant Messenger window popped up, emitting a light pinging noise. He slowly got up, curious, but steadily getting tired of all these disconnected occurrences. His arm still hurt and he was just as chilly as the night before. He message simply read, "Nick, check you email. Msg from Bunny_5."

His mouth went dry. What was going on? How did this person have his I.M. address? Hesitating at first, he quickly typed, "Leave me alone." He waited a few seconds. There was no return response.

He stood in front of the PC for a little while, briefly remembering that he should be getting ready for work, but knowing that he would eventually check his email and find something he didn't want to see. Twice he reached up to touch the keyboard and twice he pulled his hands back, blatantly afraid now.

Suddenly the I.M. screen popped back up, reading: "checkyouremail checkyouremail checkyouremail checkyouremail checkyouremail checkyouremail checkyouremail checkyouremail checkyouremail checkyouremail checkyouremail checkyouremail checkyouremail checkyouremail checkyouremail checkyouremail checkyouremail" over and over, until Nick clicked the red `X' at the top of the box to disabe the tiny screen. His heart was pounding, his breath becoming short and his mouth was dry.

Who was doing this? Was it someone at work? Were they jealous of him and his success with the Forum work? Was it some random person he had mocked in one of the previous week's posts?

He checked his email. The message from Bunny_5 sat in his intray, titled "nickpleasereadthissoon". He clicked on it began to read:

"Nick, I hope you are well please don't tell is nothing you can do end to everything most people confused attention attention i have give you hints signs is this message i wanted to it is going to frighten an it, but it is going to happen soon to of days pay attention it is coming coming coming you that something is going to happen you, but there will not believe i don't know when, time is too coming it is coming it is coming be frightened by you all of about it the Great Lord is putting explain now, but you have to pay the past couple coming coming"

I made no sense but Nick could feel his skin crawling every which way on his body again. Quickly he pulled the plug from the back of the CPU and turned to put on his clothes. He had to get out of here. When he saw that his stash had been burned to ashes on the bed he did not stop dressing. He dressed faster.

-----

What was the Great Lord? It sounded like something out of a video game. It sounded childish, the plot-line for a bad comic book, but final all at the same time. Why would someone even bother him with something so lame? The subway ride back to work was a blur, as was the quick jaunt up the elevator to the office.

His desk, as always, was meticulously ordered. While he often allowed himself to go days without showers, he never allowed his desk to become cluttered. It was the one thing he knew he could control in this world.

He checked his email. There was nothing new. Just the same message from Bunny_5 that had been there when he checked at home. The message from his dead wife's email account. The account should have been closed down by now because of disuse. It was just a simple web email account. They usually killed your account if you didn't log in for a couple of weeks. But, somehow, the account was still alive, sending messages to him while she was dead.

He would have logged in himself, but he didn't know her password. They had never shared email, though many couples did. Privacy was something she guarded pretty heavily, though Nick never thought much of it before. Now he wished he had.

He wondered if he should respond to the message? He had only answered the person (assuming it was a real person) who had been forwarding him the emails from Bunny_5. Assuming it was her, why would his dead wife be sending email to someone else, only to have it forwarded to him. Maybe because it was more believable, an objective, disinterested witness.

Maybe because this whole stupid thing was a joke.

He looked around him to see if there was anyone else left in the office. Everyone seemed to have gone home already. It was only Tuesday, but the place was already empty. The light of the florescent bulbs above made everything feel silent and still, like snow made from light. He turned to face the monitor.

Nick clicked on the reply button and tried to think of what to say. What do you say to your dead wife? But, this wasn't his dead wife. This was some jerk playing stupid tricks on him. He had received hate-mail before; it was an occupational hazard when your job is devoted to pointing out the extreme oddities of others. Maybe it was one of those people. But, he had never received anything as specific as this.

"Why are you doing this to me?" he typed quickly, pressing send before he could convince himself not to. He noticed that his hands were actually sweaty.

An answer came back almost immediately, barely giving him a chance to take his hand away from the mouse. Thinking briefly that this was not a good sign, he opened it. The response time seemed physically impossible.

"you is you fool is end anything have nick not is coming to do am being for real the coming not a joke prepare to spare is coming is coming plan not around understanding me and it doing is coming it this is coming fulfilled its know is it the you Nick it help it eternity you are given the Nick Nick Nick don't coming it is this coming Great Lord with to is what no because joke what you can you chance should be it is he will"

It was unreadable. In fact, it was worse this time. But, again there was that `Great Lord' reference, and an undeniable sense of urgency about it. The response was obviously pointing to something.

The `Great Lord'.

Nick had grown so used to being tense at this point that he didn't realize he had been holding down a key so long that it suddenly began to make that little pinging noise the keyboard makes when you don't release it. He jumped, his heart stopped for a second and then he removed his hand from the Ctrl key.

Nick replied to the message. "Who is the Great Lord? Is that supposed to be Satan or something? Why are you doing this to me?" Again, he did it fast, so that he wouldn't second-guess himself. He wished for just a second that he had brought a joint with him.

As before, the reply was instantaneous:

"nick don't think I'm fooling you this is serious so much greater than that is coming i can't answer so get prepared the truth i love you is joke think satan is the Great Lord this is serious a pawn bring but the coming soon and it will is coming it coming prepare yourself you he is a pawn how can is you end of everything for everyone is the final end coming the Great Lord is about this this is no the end it be afraid and prepare the end anymore be this is no joke this is love you it"

It explained nothing. Again. It was gibberish. Someone was definitely trying to shake him yup, though he couldn't think of why.

Yet, in the middle he had seen it: `I love you.' This was a cruel joke, if it was a joke. He had taken the joke seriously now. Tears welled up in his eyes.

He replied, "Why are you doing this? I miss you. Why are you doing this? How are you doing this? Laura, is that you?"

Nothing.

There was no response, and somehow he felt inside him that there would be no response this time. The message seemed to hint at that, if he understood it correctly, but there was an actual, empty, final feeling to the words. It was palpable and cold, like putting your hand on the side of a locked vault.

He pushed himself back, away from his desk and wiped his eyes. He decided that he would not work so much anymore. Maybe not even work at all.

The office was silent, except for the buzzing of fluorescent lights. In fact, the city sounded oddly silent. He sat in his chair, looking at the flatscreen monitor of the PC and wondering if this had all been true, real. It seemed like cruel lie, but no one who would do that to him knew what Laura's email name had been.

It was so odd, so unexpected.

Nick got up and wandered to the window, slightly separating the thin metal blinds with his fingers so that he could see outside. There was a murky reddish tint to the skyline this evening, brighter than the usual lights of the city reflecting off the dome of the night sky. And there was the slightest smell of sulphur in the air. No one was in the street.

Behind him, on the monitor, and Instant Message popped up, though it made no sound.

Nick didn't see it: "goodbyeseeyoumissyouseeyousoongoodbyeiloveyouitishere"




Sponsors

Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure

Login

Related Links
o Also by Egil Skallagrimson


Display: Sort:
Something He Didn't Expect | 162 comments (52 topical, 110 editorial, 0 hidden)
Pretty gay (2.00 / 6) (#4)
by debacle on Wed Apr 12, 2006 at 11:59:07 AM EST

Like, with dicks.

It tastes sweet.
Ends kind of flat (3.00 / 2) (#5)
by mfeltman on Wed Apr 12, 2006 at 12:23:51 PM EST

I understand that your intention is to leave an open-ended, sort of anti-climactic, sad non-conclusion, but there's a lot of build up here with very little going on once the plot is revealed.

It seems like a whole lot of investment for very little story.

It did, however, leave me with a sick feeling in my gut, so if that's your goal, then you accomplished it, if by a bare margin.


whisper.


Sounds like you got it completely. (none / 1) (#7)
by Egil Skallagrimson on Wed Apr 12, 2006 at 12:31:21 PM EST


----------------

Enterobacteria phage T2 is a virulent bacteriophage of the T4-like viruses genus, in the family Myoviridae. It infects E. coli and is the best known of the T-even phages. Its virion contains linear double-stranded DNA, terminally redundant and circularly permuted.
[ Parent ]

Yes and no. (none / 1) (#8)
by mfeltman on Wed Apr 12, 2006 at 12:33:39 PM EST

The story is definitely sad.  Even depressingly sad.  Frightening and sad and disturbing.  That you pulled off.

But I still think it could have been implemented better.  The build-up is good, but then there's a climax and an immediate end.  It's the literary equivalent of driving into a brick wall.  Even if that's your intention, and I guess it is, you could describe the crash a little more extensively and make the reader feel as though he hasn't just read a synopsis rather than a short.


whisper.


[ Parent ]

Well, i was thinking about a lot of grea stories (none / 0) (#10)
by Egil Skallagrimson on Wed Apr 12, 2006 at 12:37:48 PM EST

I've read, where the outcome is fairly obvious, but not that obvious. And, with that, fear of the unknown makes it a kind of fear for the reader when the end of the story is a little unknown.

So, without giving it all away, the scent of sulphur and the light in the sky puts the reader in Nick's place as the story ends. That's whta i wanted: I want the reader to be sitting and saying, what's with the sulphur and silence and all this apocalypse stuff?

But, I know what you're getting at. What you're telling me is that I achieved what I set out to do.

----------------

Enterobacteria phage T2 is a virulent bacteriophage of the T4-like viruses genus, in the family Myoviridae. It infects E. coli and is the best known of the T-even phages. Its virion contains linear double-stranded DNA, terminally redundant and circularly permuted.
[ Parent ]

what I'm saying (none / 0) (#13)
by mfeltman on Wed Apr 12, 2006 at 12:43:48 PM EST

is that you achieved it, but may leave the reader feeling cheated in the process.  Like, you managed to mow my lawn but you missed a patch by the lilac bush.  I'll still pay you for your work but I might not hire you again.

Anyway if you're fine with that then yeah, declare success.  :-)

PS - I'd vote the story up as is, despite the fact that I think it could be developed a little more.


whisper.


[ Parent ]

for clarity (2.00 / 3) (#17)
by mfeltman on Wed Apr 12, 2006 at 12:50:05 PM EST

this is not a proposal for you to mow my lawn, even though your name is sort of sexy.


whisper.


[ Parent ]
I'll mow your lawn if you shine my pole. nt (none / 0) (#161)
by Comrade Wonderful on Wed Apr 26, 2006 at 11:31:55 AM EST



[ Parent ]
omg ficshen (3.00 / 2) (#11)
by tkatchevzz on Wed Apr 12, 2006 at 12:41:30 PM EST

course i'm not dumb enough to be lured into reading all of that

Sure you are. (none / 0) (#16)
by Egil Skallagrimson on Wed Apr 12, 2006 at 12:49:23 PM EST

Go for it, Iceman!

----------------

Enterobacteria phage T2 is a virulent bacteriophage of the T4-like viruses genus, in the family Myoviridae. It infects E. coli and is the best known of the T-even phages. Its virion contains linear double-stranded DNA, terminally redundant and circularly permuted.
[ Parent ]

no yuo (none / 0) (#28)
by tkatchevzz on Wed Apr 12, 2006 at 01:29:07 PM EST

etc.

[ Parent ]
I liked it (none / 1) (#26)
by rpresser on Wed Apr 12, 2006 at 01:24:36 PM EST

and, like others, I am effectively creeped out now.

Fortunately, none of the five family members that have died in the past year used email to any great exte... uh-oh. My mom did use email, though she didn't email me often. And Steve did too (although that was over two years ago, I think I'm safe). shit ...
------------
"In terms of both hyperbolic overreaching and eventual wrongness, the Permanent [Republican] Majority has set a new, and truly difficult to beat, standard." --rusty

Nice work (none / 0) (#29)
by Lode Runner on Wed Apr 12, 2006 at 01:31:45 PM EST

Stuff about The Rapture has been selling well lately. You've established that Nick was left behind, but if you're going put this on the Christian market, I'd suggest throwing in a few subtle allusions to scripture.

Except it's decidedly non-Rapture. (none / 0) (#32)
by Egil Skallagrimson on Wed Apr 12, 2006 at 01:33:39 PM EST

I'd love to write one from a DFundy perspective where this same event happens and the Fundy guy is like, "Holy Crap! Did I get that whole thing wrong!"

----------------

Enterobacteria phage T2 is a virulent bacteriophage of the T4-like viruses genus, in the family Myoviridae. It infects E. coli and is the best known of the T-even phages. Its virion contains linear double-stranded DNA, terminally redundant and circularly permuted.
[ Parent ]

it sounded like the rapture to me, too (none / 1) (#33)
by mfeltman on Wed Apr 12, 2006 at 01:47:49 PM EST

after some thought.  The ending is creepy and sad, but there's elements to it that suggest a happy ending.

"Love you, see you soon" from his dead wife while the sky turns red and sulphur fills the air.  It suggests the judgement is coming and Nick will see his wife again.

Maybe unintentional but that's what I saw after a re-read.  It didn't seem to me that Nick was left behind, though.  He didn't see anybody in the streets, but that could just be some foreshadowing rather than an indication that he's the last guy left.


whisper.


[ Parent ]

That's just it, though. (none / 0) (#40)
by Egil Skallagrimson on Wed Apr 12, 2006 at 02:01:51 PM EST

The reason I left it so open-ended was to see what readers read into the story. Not being much of a believer in the Rapture side of Religion, I never intended anything like that at all.

No people in the street was no indication to me one way or the other abut Nick's state, either.

But, I do see why someone could pick up on that.

----------------

Enterobacteria phage T2 is a virulent bacteriophage of the T4-like viruses genus, in the family Myoviridae. It infects E. coli and is the best known of the T-even phages. Its virion contains linear double-stranded DNA, terminally redundant and circularly permuted.
[ Parent ]

do you believe in ghosts? (none / 0) (#46)
by Lode Runner on Wed Apr 12, 2006 at 02:13:22 PM EST

Because if so, that's just as nutty as eschatology.

[ Parent ]
More or less, I suppose. (none / 0) (#48)
by Egil Skallagrimson on Wed Apr 12, 2006 at 02:16:07 PM EST

There are too many accounts of episodes across various cultures throughou history to ignore a phenomonon like that.

I do not, however, believe in aliens.

----------------

Enterobacteria phage T2 is a virulent bacteriophage of the T4-like viruses genus, in the family Myoviridae. It infects E. coli and is the best known of the T-even phages. Its virion contains linear double-stranded DNA, terminally redundant and circularly permuted.
[ Parent ]

I hold the opposite position (none / 0) (#50)
by Lode Runner on Wed Apr 12, 2006 at 02:19:39 PM EST

Aliens, given what we know about the universe, are theoretically possible, even probable. This despite the Fermi paradox. Meanwhile, there's no disprovable mechanism to explain how ghosts could exist.

[ Parent ]
Let's say God isn't too picky (none / 0) (#43)
by Lode Runner on Wed Apr 12, 2006 at 02:10:35 PM EST

And let's say He decides that most people meet the threshold for ascension to heaven. Well, the guy who runs rotten.com likely still won't make the cut.

[ Parent ]
Or, maybe everyone doesn't make the cut. (none / 1) (#45)
by Egil Skallagrimson on Wed Apr 12, 2006 at 02:13:13 PM EST


----------------

Enterobacteria phage T2 is a virulent bacteriophage of the T4-like viruses genus, in the family Myoviridae. It infects E. coli and is the best known of the T-even phages. Its virion contains linear double-stranded DNA, terminally redundant and circularly permuted.
[ Parent ]

then why are the steets empty? (none / 1) (#49)
by Lode Runner on Wed Apr 12, 2006 at 02:16:16 PM EST

They can't all be inside having buttsex while worshipping Mohammad (pbh) and aborting babies.

[ Parent ]
At that point I would say he's dead already. (none / 1) (#53)
by Egil Skallagrimson on Wed Apr 12, 2006 at 02:28:52 PM EST

It opens up the possibilities and gives license for General Creepiness.

----------------

Enterobacteria phage T2 is a virulent bacteriophage of the T4-like viruses genus, in the family Myoviridae. It infects E. coli and is the best known of the T-even phages. Its virion contains linear double-stranded DNA, terminally redundant and circularly permuted.
[ Parent ]

not if you don't believe in ghosts (3.00 / 5) (#55)
by Lode Runner on Wed Apr 12, 2006 at 02:32:57 PM EST

The guy had an anxiety attack because he was supressing guilt about his late wife. He hallucinated, freaked out, his aneurysm popped, and he died. Happened to me once.

[ Parent ]
Good point. (3.00 / 2) (#56)
by Egil Skallagrimson on Wed Apr 12, 2006 at 02:34:49 PM EST

Abmiguity in conclusions are what makes stories fun.

----------------

Enterobacteria phage T2 is a virulent bacteriophage of the T4-like viruses genus, in the family Myoviridae. It infects E. coli and is the best known of the T-even phages. Its virion contains linear double-stranded DNA, terminally redundant and circularly permuted.
[ Parent ]

hmmm (none / 1) (#37)
by khallow on Wed Apr 12, 2006 at 01:53:37 PM EST

I tried to feel tension and suspense, but it didn't work for me. The main problems as I see them. First, this doesn't explore the potential of the internet. You have conned me.

Second, it's not scary. We have some internut who can't speak straight and the spooky, mysterious laundry incidents. The hints of satanism are bland and it's clear Egil was too lazy to put some effort into this. One shouldn't rely on satanic shorthand to build suspense and carry the story. After Zombies on the Moon, I am too spoiled for this to work.

Stating the obvious since 1969.

I don't see any satanic short hand here (none / 1) (#38)
by mfeltman on Wed Apr 12, 2006 at 01:57:37 PM EST

he's kind of vague about the (maybe) evil presence in the story, but that's intentional.  Actually you can't even decide from the story if it even IS evil if you read it objectively.

The laundry stuff I personally found creepy.  The concept of not being able to rely on your own senses/memory is not new, but nothing is, and it's a prospect that I personally find TERRIFYING.  The laundry/toiletries stuff had a decidely Poltergeist feel to it and it definitely had me scared.

I disagree with nearly everything you said, except to agree that the story could be more developed once the plot is revealed, even without giving up the "brick wall" ending.


whisper.


[ Parent ]

In fact, the very point of the story was (none / 1) (#41)
by Egil Skallagrimson on Wed Apr 12, 2006 at 02:03:31 PM EST

that it is far more terrifying when it is non-Satanic. I think you missed that.

----------------

Enterobacteria phage T2 is a virulent bacteriophage of the T4-like viruses genus, in the family Myoviridae. It infects E. coli and is the best known of the T-even phages. Its virion contains linear double-stranded DNA, terminally redundant and circularly permuted.
[ Parent ]

I sure did (none / 1) (#42)
by khallow on Wed Apr 12, 2006 at 02:09:38 PM EST

And frankly I still do. I just don't get it. *shrug*

Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

Well, I did put effort into this. (none / 0) (#58)
by Egil Skallagrimson on Wed Apr 12, 2006 at 02:54:56 PM EST

I spent quite a while on it and you didn't get it, so, that must equal some kind of success.

----------------

Enterobacteria phage T2 is a virulent bacteriophage of the T4-like viruses genus, in the family Myoviridae. It infects E. coli and is the best known of the T-even phages. Its virion contains linear double-stranded DNA, terminally redundant and circularly permuted.
[ Parent ]

You sir, are no HP Lovecraft. n/t (none / 0) (#150)
by der on Fri Apr 14, 2006 at 04:52:33 PM EST



[ Parent ]
+1FP, Great story! (none / 1) (#59)
by akostic on Wed Apr 12, 2006 at 03:11:09 PM EST


--
"After an indeterminate amount of time trading insane laughter with the retards, I grew curious and tapped on the window." - osm
Unfortunately, +1 SP (none / 1) (#61)
by Psychology Sucks on Wed Apr 12, 2006 at 04:16:00 PM EST

Even though my 5' 9" frame despises you and your nordic-wannabe Canadian giants.

STREETLAWYER CHECK YOUR EMAIL (3.00 / 10) (#62)
by Patrick Chalmers on Wed Apr 12, 2006 at 05:27:03 PM EST


Holy crap, working comment search!
Fucking beautiful. (3.00 / 3) (#66)
by Russell Dovey on Wed Apr 12, 2006 at 08:31:45 PM EST

I loved it. MORE!

Dance for me, author! Dance! Send us reams of copy of this quality, every day!

More seriously, if you keep writing like this, we can kick localroger off his pedestal.

"Blessed are the cracked, for they let in the light." - Spike Milligan

Thanks. I would enjoy some dancing, actually. (none / 0) (#68)
by Egil Skallagrimson on Wed Apr 12, 2006 at 08:51:07 PM EST

But I ain't no queer, got it?

----------------

Enterobacteria phage T2 is a virulent bacteriophage of the T4-like viruses genus, in the family Myoviridae. It infects E. coli and is the best known of the T-even phages. Its virion contains linear double-stranded DNA, terminally redundant and circularly permuted.
[ Parent ]

Pedestal? (3.00 / 3) (#69)
by localroger on Wed Apr 12, 2006 at 09:21:38 PM EST

I haven't had time to read this, but I'm in favor of anything that kills the "only localroger can get fiction posted on K5" meme.

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]
OK, now I've read it (none / 1) (#70)
by localroger on Wed Apr 12, 2006 at 09:36:38 PM EST

As others have commented could use some improvement here and there but overall it's a nice little very subtle horror story. +1SE.

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]
The one I got kicked off of (none / 0) (#72)
by MichaelCrawford on Thu Apr 13, 2006 at 12:28:33 AM EST

back before I was a link whore, when I was best known for some popular front-page non-fiction works.


You gotta watch those sour grapes. When they come out of the business end of a railgun at ten percent of the speed of light, they can seriously ruin your day
[ Parent ]

Bizzare, but riveting. (2.00 / 3) (#147)
by deadcow on Fri Apr 14, 2006 at 12:56:51 AM EST

Mr. Egil Skallagrimson can clearly be well-spoken when he wants to be, as this essay shows: Naked Lunch

I very much enjoyed the bizzare syntax and poorly edited feel of the piece--now that I know it was deliberate and not a stroke of random genious, it feels like there's definitely something deeper to this that hasn't yet been teased out.

+1 FP

-1, dead people communicating with the living (none / 1) (#148)
by anno1602 on Fri Apr 14, 2006 at 03:25:16 AM EST

Sorry, I simply can't suspend my disbelief if I read of apparently-dead-people-writing-emails-that-make-no-sense. It just sounds too much like Paranormal Borderline or similar intellect-insulting shows.
--
"Where you stand on an issue depends on where you sit." - Murphy
Why comment then? (none / 0) (#155)
by Egil Skallagrimson on Fri Apr 14, 2006 at 07:29:19 PM EST


----------------

Enterobacteria phage T2 is a virulent bacteriophage of the T4-like viruses genus, in the family Myoviridae. It infects E. coli and is the best known of the T-even phages. Its virion contains linear double-stranded DNA, terminally redundant and circularly permuted.
[ Parent ]

K5 moves in myterious ways (none / 0) (#157)
by anno1602 on Sat Apr 15, 2006 at 05:29:30 AM EST

I intended this as an editorial comment explaining my reason to vote your story down (because I believe in feedback). However, when I was done writing and hit "Post", your story had already crossed the tresshold and my comment was promoted from editorial to topical instead of being hidden (which is what, IMNSHO, should have happenend).
--
"Where you stand on an issue depends on where you sit." - Murphy
[ Parent ]
It got me thinking (none / 1) (#151)
by SocratesGhost on Fri Apr 14, 2006 at 05:57:40 PM EST

and for that, I wish I had given it a +1. But what it got me thinking about is this: if she truly loved him, why would she want to give him information on something about which he can do nothing? To me, if she was clear enough to impart the full import of the messages, she would deliver the slowest punch that he couldn't avoid. It would be cruel, really.

Also, why him? Wouldn't it be fair to assume that this phenomena would be happening to almost everyone in similar circumstances, old people, young children, etc? In this way, the story seems awfully narrow and dissatisfyingly incomplete.

On a more literary level, though, I'm not sure what to feel for the guy. Mostly I feel antipathy for him because, well, he seems like a desensitized schmuck who peddles in excrement. If anything, I'm disappointed by her message that they will be reunited. Hell is a more apt place for people like him or at least some place that would better reflect the practices of his life.

-Soc
I drank what?


Thanks for reading (none / 1) (#153)
by Egil Skallagrimson on Fri Apr 14, 2006 at 07:27:12 PM EST

I was trying to play with the idea of time and communication after death. Reasonably, our version of proper syntax is dependant on time, as in: this comes after this. If the dead are not able to function within our confines of time, then the act of typing and communication would be foriegn and nearly impossible. The concept of time would not exist except as an afterthought. Like a dyslexic, it would seem as if she had said it correctly.

----------------

Enterobacteria phage T2 is a virulent bacteriophage of the T4-like viruses genus, in the family Myoviridae. It infects E. coli and is the best known of the T-even phages. Its virion contains linear double-stranded DNA, terminally redundant and circularly permuted.
[ Parent ]

That's what I figured (3.00 / 2) (#156)
by SocratesGhost on Fri Apr 14, 2006 at 09:36:55 PM EST

in fact, that's the part I found most gripping about it. She was speaking in a particular way that made sense to her and half the fun for me was figuring out why saying it that particular way made sense.

Still doesn't change the fact that she's basically saying, "That's a great big apocolypse coming your way. Have a nice day."

He's better off without her. ;)

-Soc
I drank what?


[ Parent ]
-1 the dead have terrible punctuation (none / 0) (#152)
by A synx on Fri Apr 14, 2006 at 06:21:54 PM EST

No, not biting enough.

-1 pointless Christian propaganda

No no, that's not ironic enough.

+1 sale on brimstone

Still not quite right... oh!

-1 armageddon is a bitch

Thanks for reading into it. (none / 0) (#154)
by Egil Skallagrimson on Fri Apr 14, 2006 at 07:28:13 PM EST

Unfortunately, your version of my story is not the same as mine.

Where were the Christians, exactly?

----------------

Enterobacteria phage T2 is a virulent bacteriophage of the T4-like viruses genus, in the family Myoviridae. It infects E. coli and is the best known of the T-even phages. Its virion contains linear double-stranded DNA, terminally redundant and circularly permuted.
[ Parent ]

Good piece (none / 1) (#158)
by midnightpulp on Mon Apr 24, 2006 at 04:37:45 AM EST

Came by way of this story from SA's "Weekend Web" feature. I fully expected some illiterate, garbled piece of moron fanfiction; or maybe a weak insult from an offended internet wacko. I was surpirsed. It's lean and tight with a nice atmosphere--an effective "pulpy" story, which steadily creeps to a bleak ending; and denying the reader any sort of realization on Nick's part, or neat resolution, amplifies the clean starkness of the final scenes. My complaints would be (and you can find flaws in any story) some passages are too passively wordy: "Nature had been calling fairly urgently until he saw the closet door and its contents all over the hall. His need came back again suddenly and Nick went to relieve it." Too many adverbs here. "Nick picked it out and relieved himself with great urgency while simultaneously inspecting the toothbrush." Also, I didn't like how you let Nick off from his paranoia too easily by having him get high and nod off to sleep. I would've prefered a moody, fright filled night for Nick. This part of the story felt rushed. Seems like you were anxious to get to the next part. And this: "Across the aisle an old woman who clearly belonged in a home for the aged repeated..." The close-to-death look of a creepy old woman can be a great addition to the atmosphere of a story like this. But, you flew over this observation and gave the old woman a bare-bones description, and presented the situation with very little texture. Plus, you told her what she was saying, not showed it. It would've been nice and creepy to write out the advertisements the old woman was repeating in dialogue form with a speedy, staccato rhythm, while Nick is descending into borderline madness. Think of a rapid cross-cut in a movie. This is nice and atmospheric: "When people began commenting about his blood-shot eyes and the light scent of rank dead skin and sweat buildup coming from his cubicle, he would force himself to leave and return to the crypt that had become his home." Lean and hard. The use of "rank dead skin" is a great example of pulp poetry. So is the "the city can be a punishing master." And you have many more nice ones in there. Overall, this is a nice story. I like the way it combines old-style, Gothic atmosphere with current elements in present, technological and pop culture. Good work, but it needs just a little bit more.

Wall of text crits you for 209039 damage. (none / 0) (#159)
by Redcatblack on Wed Apr 26, 2006 at 12:18:34 AM EST

You die.

[ Parent ]
Huh? (none / 0) (#162)
by midnightpulp on Wed Apr 26, 2006 at 07:11:36 PM EST

I spaced it properly in the comment box and it showed up like that. Not sure what your threat means?

[ Parent ]
I think it's good (none / 1) (#163)
by Marvaud on Sat Apr 29, 2006 at 12:14:59 AM EST

I enjoyed it

Something He Didn't Expect | 162 comments (52 topical, 110 editorial, 0 hidden)
Display: Sort:

kuro5hin.org

[XML]
All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective companies. The Rest 2000 - Present Kuro5hin.org Inc.
See our legalese page for copyright policies. Please also read our Privacy Policy.
Kuro5hin.org is powered by Free Software, including Apache, Perl, and Linux, The Scoop Engine that runs this site is freely available, under the terms of the GPL.
Need some help? Email help@kuro5hin.org.
My heart's the long stairs.

Powered by Scoop create account | help/FAQ | mission | links | search | IRC | YOU choose the stories!