Markus’ dad used to kick the dog if he was pissed off about something. He would slip his shoe off to do it, punting it in the side with the heel of his foot and a shouted expletive. A familial ritual which was never spoken about, and when Biscuits got run over by a drunk driver when Markus had walked him over to the dog park and he’d gotten off the lead, no one mentioned it again.
Markus had the internet.
He sat hunched over the keyboard, talking shit into the headset as he aimed his cursor across the infinite digital battlefield with guys his age all over the world. Here, they were warriors without causes, because out there he worked shifts at a coffee shop and couldn’t afford to move out of the house. He moved down to the basement, jerked off over talking to women because regret hurt less than rejection and eked out a small, neutered life.
The anger never went away though. No matter how good he got at the game, it wasn’t enough.
He started streaming his games, enjoying the reaction his comments got, and when he started reading some of the links people sent him. When he wandered into work the next day, his eyes were dark with fatigue but how could you explain to your boss, with his weak chin and hipster sleeve tattoos, that one hundred thousand people were listening to you talk?
Markus enjoyed the power, how all these people asked him questions, sent him links and recorded response videos in response to things he’d said.
The feminism question came up.
He avoided it because Markus had been around the internet enough to know it was something you embraced or avoided. Milo Yiannopoulos had said it was cancer, and Markus had agreed, if you got it, it was probably a fight to the death.
It had started as a joke, and the reaction had been immediate.
He appreciated the response videos at first. The back and forth bumped up his ratings, and when he started getting cheques from advertising on his channel, he had to sit down, his head swimming with shock at getting money for just saying what was on his mind.
He decided to get the cancer, and go down fighting.
He recorded videos about feminism.
The Wage Gap.
The Pink Tax.
He took it to operatic. By the time he started recording them, his delivery had sharpened to the point where he was entertaining, which made them more offensive to people on the internet. It was nice to quit the shifts at the coffee shop, and it was really nice to move out and buy an apartment but he never knew how to respond to all the emails.
Markus was enjoying it too much to wonder how long it would last.
New things drew people’s attention.
Which was when Dr Zoe Morgan, started recording her response videos and Markus fell, if not in love, then at least in hate, which was just as good and meant his fleshlight time had a feverish, furious intensity.
He wanted to go out and meet women. He’d get swiped on, but as soon as anyone searched for him, he would be unmatched. The search algorithm was a mirror and Markus did not like what he saw there. So, when she reached out, with her painstaking videos, trying to take him apart from fallacies and insults about his manhood.
He responded with a new level of invention, a kind of hatred which drew attention and views in the way dogshit drew flies. He recorded animations about her, mocking her nasal voice with a sound patch as he imagined her in pornographic scenarios. Animals. Bodily fluids.
She published a chat transcript.
Rachel. He’d had one of those three a.m. panic attacks where he went online to look at the views on his channel, to see tangible proof of his worth. Even a hate watch was advertising revenue for him, and Rachel had been commenting and emailed him a photo with the ripe promise of cleavage and full, soft lips. She caught him when he was weak, and he spilled a lot of the immature, inexperienced sentiment to her in a chat which left him shaking and happy at the same time.
He read his words again, feeling his shame slide up his throat like vomit as he clamped his hand over his mouth. Markus used to do it at home, and now in his own place, he wanted someone to hear his pain and come to help.
They were all on the internet, when they could have been spending time together.
Markus took 50ccs of anger and walked away from the laptop, trying to get into the space where he could record a response to it.
No, not a video.
He was on the server in five minutes. Her name and address. A good part of town, and her degree was in sociology, of all fucking things. He picked up the phone and dialled 911.
Markus let his fear come, had it squeeze tears from his eyes and tighten his throat.
‘Please, you need to send someone, there’s a man with a gun in the house across the street.’
He gave the address, then held the phone away from his face and cried out in alarm before disconnecting the call.
It didn’t feel as good as he hoped. Lashing out like this wasn’t as satisfying when he couldn’t see her face as the cops bust in.
Jake flexed his fingers inside his gloves, gripping the barrel of the AR-15, trying not to think about his sister-in-law coming over tomorrow. She sneered at everything in her little sister’s house, and it made Jake itch to stand up and smack the smugness from her kike bitch face. Kelly was doomed to be single forever, with her multi-coloured hair and cats eye glasses, a permanent case of resting bitch face which haunted Jake’s dreams.
Last summer, she had announced she was trying out girls for a change and got upset when no one cared. Jake decided to be grateful on behalf of his fellow man in a dignified silence. He didn’t want to upset his Lisa over it. He loved her in a solid, quiet way but Kelly got under his skin like a chigger.
Underwood tapped him on the shoulder.
‘Get your head on straight, we’re on point.’
The call had come in, home invasion in a good area and the shift commander was a big fan of the SWAT unit and liked sending them in wherever possible. Uniforms were standing by, good cops but sometimes the police liked to remind people they were there.
Jake nodded and roadie-ran out of the truck, onto the sidewalk and up the steps of the house. He gauged the door wasn’t that strong and kicked it hard, inwards.
He saw half of the girl’s face, the locks of purple hair, the colour of cough syrup and the gleam of spectacles and the rifle was up. It was the thing in her hand, dark and long, which put his finger over it. A small prickle started in his upper lip, the residual irritation he felt for Kelly feeding and heightening the adrenaline coursing through his system.
The red stain on the sweater made him pull it.
A cherry red slushie, a single drop falling from the straw onto the front of her sweater as she had sat there, watching her hit count rise like t-cells in an infected patient. She had the first cheque in the bank, and she had been thinking about being able to move out. It was embarrassing to have a PhD and be living with her parents.
Picking fights with anti-feminists had been a good way to get attention.
Ir8G8m3r had been a great foil, and although she had found the idea of pretending to be someone else to get him talking about himself, she had fought a horrible, inappropriate emotion running though her.
Empathy. Another person who was screaming how together they were, how righteous yet without the ability to make real choices about their lives. She was angry at people who criticised her field because it was the source of her self-esteem. Rachel could not get a good paying job out of it, but she could call herself a doctor and no one could take it away from her.
Not without drawing blood.
She had sauntered to the door, flush with triumph at a future away from the house before it killed her.
The door had been kicked open as she checked her instagram feed on her phone. She had shrieked as the man in black combat armour aimed the rifle at her and fired.
Two rounds punched through her.One went through the brachial artery in her left arm and the other slipped in under her collarbone and punched through her subclavian artery. She did not fall down, the blood loss sending her deep into a pocket of deep, shuddering cold before she felt her legs go numb and the ground rushed up to meet her.
Markus started getting messages.
They came in from everywhere, but really they were all one message.
He had been chatting with one of his friends, struggling not to tell him how he had swatted Rachel, when the messages came in. He left the chat server and checked his social media feeds.
The questions emerged, like lesions rising on the skin of his virtual self, and then the news reports. His anxiety buzzed in his head like insects had nested in there. It drowned out his thoughts, and even his perception of time, watching the world spit spite at him for his actions.
As he heard the thumping on his door, he thought about Bobby and wished he’d never gotten away from him, the lead slipping through his fingers as the car sped down the street. He wished he had said something to his dad, stood up to him for hurting something which had only known how to love him.
Markus knew how Bobby felt as he got up to answer the door.