Saturday, March 24, 2007

Fiction from a long time ago

She lies on her bed with head in her hands and she weeps. Why today? Why now? She sobs and these sobs are not just expressions of her grief, they physically hurt her. “How ironic.” She thinks. Her body’s way of coping with emotional trauma adds to the pain. These sobs rack her body, making her head hurt, and bruising her lungs. This is a pain completely new to her. It fills her, and infects the atmosphere around her. Her heart has been ripped from her body and she no longer has control of its workings.

She had used a computer for years. Ever since she started school, ten and a half years ago. She had been fascinated. From the putting the big, black floppy disks in, to typing the elementary code of the old BBC computer. She recalled the excitement when her first LOGO program had worked. Hooked ever since, she had made any excuse to use the computer, and when her family bought one second hand, she felt has if her life was complete.

“For your school work.” Her Dad said. Little did he know that this machine would be instrumental in the loss of his daughter. Lucy was an only child, very quiet, very sheltered. She thought she knew all the rules and logged onto a chat server.

Soon she was exploring the IRC channels. Teenage chat room users develop a queer form of touch typing, where their hands fall into instinctive old patterns. She as a ‘newbie’ was baffled by the acronyms that flowed easily from the hands of other users. Quite often, the person she was talking to was ‘ROTFL’ at her breaches of ‘Netiquette’. It was English, but not as she knew it. It was unrecognisable in it’s composition and grammar, and it was meant to be, having been developed by hundreds of chat users craving privacy from those who peered over their shoulders.

She forgot that when she sat in front of a computer screen, she became detached from reality. Sitting there, she had one monitor, her only her portal into a different, complete world. However many windows she could fit onto the screen, she was never going to be able to see and understand the whole picture. The new world she was exploring beyond her monitor was a very separate reality. It had it’s own rules and regulations. Piracy and plagiarism frowned upon in real life, appeared acceptable and as normal as checking your email. The people she met online had adopted strange and surreal nicknames, became members of forums discussing such things as ‘The Greatness of Monty Python’ and were quite happy to talk to an unknown girl from half way around the world. The Internet did not bring the world closer together; it just created a whole new one for Lucy to exist in. And get lost in.

She sits again before the screen and sighs. The relentless scanning of the screen has left her eyes weary and lined. This is when her age changes. She doesn’t have to be confined by reality .If she felt like being forty – one for a day, no one she’ll talk to will know any better. She can play any character, assume any role. To her the lie is preferable to reality.

The reality she hates. Short, mousy brown hair bobbed as it had been for years, just the way her mother liked it. Small eyes, an unassuming hazel colour and a nose that veers onto the large side. She wishes wholeheartedly that her reality were more like the one she creates virtually in the role-playing games online. She is neither tall nor graceful, seemingly obligatory characteristics for female roles. In the real world, she blends in seamlessly, unobtrusive, quiet and unseen.

Her online persona is the opposite. Compared to her painful shyness, online she is gregarious, revelling in being allowed to wear the cloak of anonymity. Nothing of the everyday survives. She is most definitely not content to lurk in the shadows of a chatroom. Online, she usually becomes an unstoppable whirlwind of words. Her comments flow easily with the fluency of a well-practised touch-typist. They pour forth from her fingers, creating a little world around her to block out he real one she dislikes so intensely.

She clings to her creation, spending hour after hour at her keyboard, changing variables and adding extras to improve the graphic that strolls about within her game. Here she has made herself tall, graceful, but beautiful as well. Her fictitious character has long flowing hair, large almond shaped, violet eyes, and a figure that would stop cars if real. Here she will not give up. Here she sits until she finds the perfect combination. This is the obstinate streak in her, always looking for something to improve upon. Life is easier to alter online, and her devotion to this world is all too apparent. She is slowly becoming less self-aware. Clothes are chucked on any old how as she grabs them in the morning, odd socks and clashing colours. Her hair is combed but only just. She cares only for the screen now. The people there don’t know and don’t care what see looks like.

She has been waiting for hours. Doubt fills her mind as voices join to form one venomous question mark. “Is he ever going to send you an email? Will you find out the next episode in your story?” She twitches and squirms in her chair with impatience. She knows that anything he writes, she will accept. The chink in her armour is her low self-esteem. His flattery pleases her, bolsters her confidence.

The nagging voice is back, severing her concentration. “Are you really the sweetest thing? Why would spend this much time on you?” A nervous energy fills her as she fiddles with her hair and bites her nails. She plays with the broken edge of the CD case. Patience was never her strongest virtue. “Why hasn’t he logged in?” the voice sneers, “He promised you he’d be online this evening didn’t he?” She sighs feeling dejected, sinking deeper into her own little world, into the blankness that surrounds her. “You can’t ignore us. However hard you try to slip away from the reality into his web of lies, we will still be here telling you the truth.”

The other voice cuts in. “He would never lie to you, never!”

Nevertheless, she knows, deep down that the first voice is right. Somewhere inside things are moving into place. Doubt trickles from her head to her heart. A poisonous dart of realisation. The pain is too great.

Thoughts fly around her head. She must decide now. Does she have anything to gain? What does she stand to lose? Why do they want her? Some twisted thing inside her is excited by the prospect of never knowing normality again. How will those left behind respond to her disappearance? Nevertheless, now she almost longs for routine, the way things were before.

A message box flashes upon the screen. “Lucy?” She jolts back to the here and now with a bump. “Lucy?” blinks repeatedly in the box. Now he is here, she does not want to talk to him. She is frozen in her seat. What now? This is her decision

“Lucy, we’re waiting for you.

Where are you?

Lucy?

Lucy?

Lucy?

He is here. Waiting for her. Waiting for that decision. He‘s trying to convince her that doing this will be the right thing. That they won’t miss her. That she’ll be happier here. Again, she slumps back in her seat, the sick feeling rising in her stomach. Bitter bile in her mouth. She knows this isn’t right, she knows that this is dangerous. Is he what he says he is? The danger adds to the excitement. A part of her is liberated by the feeling of power she feels over him. She can’t quite believe that someone would be willing to listen to her let alone love her, but she wants to. Inside her there is the conflict between the right thing to do and what she wants. Should you always follow the gut instinct?

The voices in her head separate again. “It was right when it came to meeting him wasn’t it?” She lets them talk without quashing them as she normally would .She hasn’t got enough resistance left in her. “You had a good time then. He made you feel special, he made you feel wanted. He bought you that bracelet and you haven’t taken it off since.”

“Why’s that then?” The other voice begins to sneer. “Because you have feelings for him? You’ve only met him once. Think about it. What does he want from you? Come on, he’s just like every other bloke you’ve ever met.”

“SHUT UP!” she screams at her self. “I don’t want to listen to you anymore. GO AWAY!”

“We can’t go away, we’re part of you.”

“Then why can’t you agree?”

“We can’t let you make a decision you’ll regret.”

“What’s the right thing to do then?”

“Whatever you want…”

She falters. What does she want? To spend the rest of her life here, her real character choked by lack of self-esteem? Where she feels obliged to apologise for the way she is? Where her friends are people on the other end of an optical cable? Where her parents are forever urging her to ‘get some fresh air, make some new friends, find a hobby’?

She feels trapped under the expectations of achievement. She never learnt how to socialise, she never learnt how to be herself amongst a group of people. Her whole life has been geared to academia. Her parents carefully selected appropriate playmates for her. People they thought would be good influence.



Monday, October 28, 2002

When she got to school things grew worse. She found coping with hundreds of people difficult, and became more introverted. Now she is the loner on the edge of the circle, sitting quietly on the sidelines. Observing.

She left the world alone and it ignored her. She stopped trying to fit in and it stopped making an effort to reach her. She achieved consistently so the authorities had felt no reason to worry about her. Alone in her blank world, ordered into carefully measured chunks of study and ‘recreational activities’ it was no surprise that she was surprised when a complete stranger took the time out to send her PM using the IRC software. Flattered, but most definitely surprised. She didn’t know what to do. Of course she replied, it would have been impolite not to, and she had been brought up properly. She found herself talking in detail to the person who said he lived in town that she recognised in being about 10 miles away from her. Perhaps it was the shock or maybe the novelty, but very soon personal information began slipping from her fingers onto his screen. She didn’t or couldn’t see anything wrong in telling him. She wouldn’t speak to him again.

But she did. He was there every time she logged on. It would have been impolite not to talk to him, so she did. Everyday. It became a tryst of sorts as the weeks, then months past. The same time, the same server. When she came home seething at the injustices of the world he would soothe her, pour balm on the wound inflicted by the cruel taunts of her classmates. She hated the incisive comments that seemed to rain down upon her endlessly. It felt like they enjoyed hurting her feelings. He would tell her to calm down, and to remember that she was above such things, that they were only jealous of her talents. When she felt depressed and suicidal, he was the one to encourage to try again and to accept this was one day of many she would live through. He told her that life wouldn’t always be like this. She believed him.

Suddenly she cannot wait anymore. She decides to take a risk. One voice says, “You’ll never know until you’ve tried” The other tells her “You’ll regret this.” She replies to his PM.

“ OK where?”

“That took you long enough”

“I’ve been thinking”

“I can tell”

“Look just give me the details”

“Now, now, only if ur sure”

“Course I am. I wouldn’t b sayin yeh if I wasn’t”

The voice pops up again. “You’re not sure.” She tries to ignore it.

“Leave me alone”

“Huh?” Confusion reigns.

“Not you sorry, wrong convo.”

“So I’ve not got your full attention”

“It’s only a person from school”

“You said you wouldn’t be caught dead talking to them. Who is it?”

“Oh for heaven’s sake, It’s no one.”

“MMMmmm…”

“Look I want to see you not anybody else.”

“I suppose”

“Don’t be like that. Now where do you want to meet me?”

“ Where’s easiest?”

“ Oh I dunno.”

“Can u get 2 Easthampton?”

“If I get the train. What time?”

“How bout 2pm? That’s not 2 suspect”

“Ok I’ll meet u @ the station in front by the pillars, like b4.”

“Wear the scarf, that’ll b easy enough to spot.”

“Ok, see you then…This is exciting.”

“It is isn’t it. It’ll be forever this time.”

“It’ll be real no more pretending.”

“No more pretending.”



Friday, November 08, 2002

She is scared now. The voices join up again, presenting her with a united front. “ Is this what you want? Why aren’t you listening to us? To me? To the other one? What is it going to be like? You think it will be like in a film or a story. That it is all going to be ok. You will step off the train and he will be waiting. He will sweep you off your feet and whisk you away from all that is wrong with the world. Is it really going to like that?” She glares at nothing in particular, and then mostly at herself. This is actually extremely difficult, rather like trying to look yourself in the eye. Then to the room in general, “There’s only one way to find out.”

The first time they met up, the wind had blown across the station sending leaves billowing in swirls down the platform. A shoal of amber coloured fish in a sea of cold, dry air. She had not known what to expect. Running her hand across the frost covered railings, she had proceeded slowly towards the pillars of the neo-classical station, and flinched at a dart of what she hoped was not pre-emptive disappointment. All she could have hoped for was that he would not let her down like the rest of her world. Crowds of busy people surged around her, and again she had gone against the tide, away from the platforms as they had rushed up the stairs towards the next train. One part of her had told her to run back to the warmth of the carriage whilst the other had said that she could not run away forever. Another argument had ensued in side her head but Lucy had not listened to it. She had given up on trying to listen to herself along time ago.

She had not been looking ahead, but at her feet, the second, kinder voice had told her that if she could not see him then he was not really there. The first voice had told her to look up, see what she had done. He was standing under the archway formed by two pillars, a small blue plastic bag in one hand, and had been talking into a mobile phone. His head, turned away from her, tilted to one side, deep in thought. The small, pointless kind of details you remember long after the event. Quickly she had looked at her feet again half wishing that he wouldn’t see her and then she could go home and pretend nothing had ever happened. Cut off contact entirely.

“Lucy?” He had seen her. “It is Lucy isn’t?” He smiled. The smile was trying it’s best to be friendly, eager, yet a sharp edge of desperation made it feel cold. The phone had been flipped shut.

“Yes.” She had replied, almost inaudibly.

“It’s so good to finally meet you in real life.”

“You too.” They had stood awkwardly for a few moments staring at each other.

“So…” Lucy looked up. “…Where shall we go now?” He grinned. “A cup of Coffee?”

“ Alright. There’s a nice little café in the main precinct” It was all so mundane. Here he was, the person that had made life worth living through the difficulties, and she felt nothing. Was it just the words?

They had walked slowly through the centre of the town. He talked to her, rambling on about some film he had watched. Too busy sorting through her thoughts, she didn’t really listen, just nodded and smiled occasionally. Inside her head had been chaos. She had everything worked out when new variables kept working their way in and disrupt everything. That is why she did not register his arm round her waist as they walked into the café. Only untangling herself, as he went to get the drinks and she to find a free table.

Over coffee and giant pretzels, his favourite apparently, they made small talk. Pointless, boring small talk. About things they wouldn’t dream of talking of online. Gradually Lucy relaxed. This was as normal as you could get. She had wanted to yell at the general public that not all the people you met online were dangerous. For the first time in months, she had felt happy, warm and wanted. She did not brush his hand away when he covered her hand with his. She had been not the slightest bit suspicious when the little blue plastic bag revealed it’s contents to be a jewellery box. He would not try to buy her affection. It was a heart-felt gift, she had been sure. A beautiful 9ct gold bracelet. Just like the one she had been looking at in the Argos catalogue online the other night.

“Lucy, this is for you. To remind you that I’m always here for you.” He had stroked her wrist and turned her hand over so it was palm up, before fastening the bracelet around it. She shuddered at his touch, part happiness, and part disgust. She had not been sure how to react and so had done nothing. Was this normal? Her fingers then closed over his hand.

“Thank you. It’s…It’s…lovely.” That was the best she could come up with. What more could she say to this man? She then glanced at her watch. Time had flown although she did not think that she was having fun. “I have to go now. I said I would be back in time to…” She had searched for a good excuse. “… Cook. Yes that’s it, to cook tea for my sister before her swimming lesson.” She stood to go.

“Do you have to? You don’t really want to go back. Do you?” His eyes had bored into her head with a fearful intensity. She had felt as if the thumping of blood in her temple would cause her head to explode.

“Yes…yes…I must I really must,” she said falteringly as she stumbled away.

She has forgotten how she behaved when you met up. You laugh. It was like watching a fox, straining between the jaws of a trap. Caught between the lesser of the two evils. Stay and die, or risk a struggle and an uncertain future. The image of her eyes as she rushed away is engraved in your memory. She was so uncertain, so vulnerable, so scared and unsure of what was happening. For a moment, you actually felt remorse. That stranger, who has not visited you for years. It left you as quickly as it came and you went back to do some damage control. You told her how good it was to see her, how beautiful she was in the flesh and how honoured you were that she calls you her friend.

She will come. You have not spent all these months preparing for nothing. It has worked before, and it will work again. If you tire of her. Maybe you will, and maybe you will not. She might be more willing than the others were. Her defences are lower. It so, so easy to get in, wasn’t it? It was like she had given you the key, laid down, and let it happen. She bared her soul and you found it so easy to take advantage. People are too trusting, aren’t they?

You do not feel anything. It is her fault for believing you. Her fault for being less than cautious. Moreover, you have not done anything untoward, technically. She suggested meeting up in the first place and yes, you did give her those gifts, but she did not have to accept them. She did not have to take the hints. She could have had some common sense.

You log in again and spend a few minutes choosing a suitable e – card to email to her, something soppy with stars on a night sky. She is enchanted by that. Silly girl. Not much longer now. With the plan running through your head, you crack your knuckles and smile that edgy, slightly desperate grin. Glancing at the clock, you decide it is nearly time and head for the door…


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