January 25, 2012 by Ray Yanek
Cue: A computer as a character
Genre: Science Fiction (feel free to mix genres)
Word Limit: 1500
Deadline: Wednesday Jan. 27th 9:00PM EST
*This was a slap-dash, last minute attempt to get back into Flash Fiction Friday. So bear with me…*
A Friend in Digital
She sat in her bedroom, the shades drawn, in the concave of her desk chair and watched the cursor blink on the computer monitor.
Over and over and over.
Her foot tapped to the rhythm of the flash, bounced over the ethernet cable that she had disconnected and left to lay under the desk. She chewed her bottom lip. The cherry from her Chapstick crawled onto her tongue as a hand twirled a lock of auburn hair that had fallen from behind her ear. She scanned the bottom corner of the monitor making sure the Wi-Fi was switched off.
The cursor continued to blink.
Over and over and over.
She dreamt of an island, of sand dusting the back of her thighs and crusting under the elastic of her swimsuit bottom as she sat on the shore and waved at a distant land that could not see her greeting. She waved in time, she imagined, with the cursor that blinked.
Her hand clutched the strand of hair between her fingers. She squeezed her eyes shut and felt the disconnected cable at her feet.
The obsidian word wasn’t really on the screen. She had imagined it, like the shore line in her mind.
She tilted and turned her head to the side as if she could sneak up on the word and eased her eyes open. The word remained.
“Please stop doing this,” she whispered.
“Because it’s crazy.”
Her answer slipped on the waxy Chapstick coating her tongue. She should have heard the click, should have felt the indentions of the keys, as the words slid from left to right across the screen. But there had been no sound. “Yes,” she said. “It is. I didn’t type anything. If I didn’t type, you can’t talk back. It doesn’t work like that.”
For us it does. Just two old friends, passing the time.
Best friends, she thought unbidden, and shivered. “No. This isn’t happening. I don’t want this.”
But yet you’re here.
She bit her lip harder, the taste of cherry and wax long gone, leaving only chaffed and wet flesh. Maybe I’m crazy, she thought. Maybe more than just maybe. Why else would she have been sitting there, waiting?
Because I’m the only one that knows you. The real you. The vulnerable you. The one behind the masks you wear.
This wasn’t possible. Computers couldn’t read minds. She put her hands down between her legs and forced her shoulders closer together. “What else do you know?”
I know that the world doesn’t want you.
“You’re a fucking computer. What do you know about the world?” she said, her face turning hot, her eyes narrow.
The cursor blinked. And blinked. And blinked.
Why do you sit with me? Day in and day out?
Because you’re supposed to be a diary, she thought, like all teen-age girls have. A place where I can come to express myself, talk about things that no one else will listen to. Because when I type, she thought, every word takes form and shape, occupies a place. And if the words are real, that mean I’m—
Her breath hitched to a stop. That time she was certain she had only thought the words, not said them aloud.
Vertigo twisted her. Then how?
Because I can feel you. Because to me you are real.
That didn’t make sense. She read it wrong, had to, because the words on the screen seemed to dissolve through the spark of currents she felt firing through her head, through the rows of zeros and ones streaming on the shade of the window. She focused on those numbers and tried to discern a pattern, a rhyme or a reason, anything to keep herself from thinking thoughts that could be heard.
Because I listen, child.
I’m not a child. I’m seventeen.
But you protect yourself as if you were a child. You swaddle yourself with blankets of fantasy and imagination and isolation.
She couldn’t think with the buzzes and whirls in her head. Not with the scrolling numbers on the shade forming into images of her father, or what she thought her father might look like. They were distracting her, especially the image of her mother’s bedroom door and the area of carpet in front of it that was more faded than the rest. She saw herself laying on that spot now, huddled against that door, waiting, believing, trusting, that if she lay there just a little while longer her mother would open that door.
Why did her lip shake, she wondered? She hated that. Hated when that happened.
Because you’re remembering the disappointment.
She shook her head, lifted her hand to wipe the moisture from her eyes.
There will be more.
“No,” she said. “There won’t be. Things will get better. I deserve better.”
Like the world you told me about. Where you are accepted and loved. Where you feel worthy enough to have someone to talk to.
The cursor blinked and blinked.
She twisted in her seat when her skin went prickly. Her shoulders rolled. She stretched her arms out, turned them elbows down to see what was crawling on her skin, but there was nothing. Still she felt it. Like being poked with tiny pins, but in just the right spots to awaken her nerves and senses. To make her hear the clicks and spins in her head more clearly. To help her taste the copper—almost like blood—in her mouth.
You won’t get it.
“Bullshit!” she said lunging forward, the chair rolling backwards until she grabbed the desk edge and arced to stop.
It’s a problem of expectation now. You’ve spent so much time telling me about how great and boundless the love you deserve will be, how in such wonderful ways the world will make itself turn. You’ve made it all so wonderful, so romantic and sweet.
Her head shook back and forth. “Don’t you say it. Don’t you even say it. It will get better.”
But it will never be what you’ve dreamed.
“Yes it will, goddamn it.”
Again, the cursor blinked and flashed.
That was almost worse, she thought. Worse than watching the letters appear on the screen even though her hands were in her lap. She hated the silence, and the quiet truth behind the lack of a response.
Stay with me. Disappear in me.
She swallowed something slimy and metallic. What would it matter if she did? Something as light as a feather would cause a ripple if it fell to the surface of a pond. Yet she would stir nothing if she fell off the grid by plunging into it. If she disappeared in the dreams and fantasies she created on that computer, no one would even now. No one would even care. She would never be disappointed when her dreams never came.
And they weren’t just fantasies anymore, were they?
It’s the happiness you deserve.
She wiped her nose with the back of he hand, nodded.
Then let yourself go.
The buzz of currents lit her mind, made her see the particles in the dust that floated across the light of the monitor. Soft breezes that hummed seeming lullabies cooled her skin. Numbers scrolled faster. Faster yet across the blind. So fast she couldn’t make out the individual numbers anymore. But that didn’t matter. She felt the power in those numbers, a power that rivaled the power of the words she wanted to type and the world she wanted to create and control.
She just had to let go. Unplug the ethernet chord to her head.
And it will be so much better.
But it wouldn’t, would it? To create and control? Because the people that listened and saw you would only do so because you made them. They wouldn’t be real. They would be nothing more than teddy bears sitting silent around a tea table.
Not real at all. And that wouldn’t be good enough, either.
She moved in her seat, sat herself upright and tried to square her shoulders. “No,” she said. “I don’t want this.”
But you do.
“No. You have to stop. You just make it worse.”
The cursor. Flash and blink.
Flash and blink.
Then unplug me.
Yes. She had to unplug this computer. Make it all stop. She lowered her eyes to the Ethernet cable, followed the serpentine trail towards the wall until she found the thick ebony chord. He eyes jumped to that chord and followed that path to the wall. She pushed her gaze faster knowing that if she slowed her conviction would waver.
But for a moment her eyes stopped and trailed to the computer itself.
“Because you already are,” she said and fell back to her haunches.