Saturday, June 23, 2018

The Anti-Social Network, Part Four

Rachel came home late. I was cooking red beans and rice. Not even from a mix. “I’m glad that’s over with.” She pulled her shoes off in the kitchen. “That smells good.”
            “My own secret recipe.” I looked at my laptop while stirring. “That I might have stolen from the internet. Rough day?”
            “Got it finished.” Rachel sighed. “Oh, I might have found someone who can hack Capper. But he can’t come over tonight.”
            “Is it that Derek guy?” A friend of Rachel’s, connected to some kind of vigilante group I didn’t want to know too much about.
            “Yeah.” She opened the refrigerator and grabbed a beer. “Cam went to prison for hacking, so I can’t get him. Anyway . . .” She took a gulp. “See you in a few minutes.”
            We ate dinner, chatting about work, the news, and the crazy cat lady door. “I mean, I like cats!” Rachel shoved the beans and rice around her plate. “But she’s got, like, 30 of them. They really should tell you about that before you sign a lease.”
            “She seems nice.” I’d met Ms. Carmen when we moved in. “And nothing smells.”
            “I like her too.” Rachel shrugged. “I just think it’s bad for the cats. I’d hate to call somebody, but . . .” She swigged her beer. “Hey, this is good.”
            “We’ve got leftovers for tomorrow.” I finished up and started clearing the table.
            “How’s the Capper case coming?” Rachel stood up and helped me carry dishes into the kitchen.
            I told her what I’d learned from Teresa Willings. “She told me to screw off at the end of it. It happens.”
            “Anything else?”
            I hesitated. I should have told her about setting up a profile with my real name. But something stopped me. I shook my head. “Nothing. I have two new friends on Capper, and a dozen friend requests I’m ignoring.”
            Rachel cocked her head. “You okay?”
            “Yeah. Why?”
            Her eyes narrowed. “I don’t know. Let’s watch TV.”
            We cleaned the dishes and sat down to watch the latest episode of Westworld. Rachel held my hand.
            I was sleepy. I hadn’t slept much last night after the attack, but now I felt exhausted. Halfway through the episode—I couldn’t really follow what was happening anyway—I stood up, my legs shaking. “Going to bed.”
            Rachel stared at me. “Long day?”
            I nodded. “Something like that.”
            I staggered into the bedroom and collapsed on the bed.

“Tom? Tom!”
            A fist punched my shoulder.
            What the—? I leaned back. I was slouched in my office chair, sweat dripping down my neck and T-shirt. Rachel stood over me.
            “What are you doing? Jerk!” She slapped my face.
            “Wha . . .” I blinked. “What happened?”
            “This!” Rachel held up a steak knife. Stained with drops of blood. “And that!” She jabbed a finger at my computer screen.
            I rubbed my fingers on my T-shirt. I felt sweaty and dirty. I looked at my hand.
            Not sweat. Blood.
            I lurched up, my heart pounding, What the hell?
            Then I leaned forward, trying to focus my eyes. The screen . . . a message . . .
            KILL YOURSELF.
            I slammed the laptop closed. “What the hell?”
            “You went to bed.” Rachel pulled her chair next to mine. “Then you got up and came in here. I asked if you were okay, and you didn’t say anything. Then I came out and found you here poking one of our good steak knives at your throat!”
She dropped the knife on the floor. “Now I’m going to have to throw this one out. Maybe all of them. What were you doing?” She looked like she wanted to slug me.
            “I don’t . . .” I rubbed my forehead.
            I pulled my T-shirt up. I’d put fresh bandages on my chest wound after showering this morning. They were holding back the blood. Then I grabbed a handful of tissues from a box of Puffs next to my laptop and pressed them to my throat. When I pulled the wad away, the stain was pink and faint.
            “Oh god,” I whispered.
            “I set up a profile.” My lips felt numb. “I wasn’t getting anywhere. I used an access code Keeton gave me. I Just wanted to see what would happen—”
            “Well, you found out, didn’t you?” Rachel stood up. “I can’t believe you did this! Without even telling me? You let that thing get inside your head—”
            “I didn’t really think it was real.” I scrolled down my page. No one had friended me, or reacted to any of the photos I’d posted.
            The KILL YOURSELF message had been posted at midnight. I looked at the time. 12:36.
            I deleted the image. “I guess it’s real.”
            “And I was worried about you watching internet porn.” Rachel punched me. Hard. “Take a shower. You stink.”
            Right. I turned off the laptop and followed her to the bedroom.

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